FOURTH WAY SCHOOL

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A Fourth Way School in the Digital Age?

Interview with Asaf Braverman about Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Fourth Way Schools in our age, and other Contemporary Teachings

When did you first encounter the teachings of Gurdjieff and why did it appeal to you?
In 1995. I was very young and at the point where I had to make decisions about studies and career the would impact the rest of my life. Nothing made sense. My elders were unable to offer convincing answers to basic questions I had about the meaning of life. How could one make decisions about life if one didn’t know its meaning? Contemporary spirituality seemed overly superficial. Western psychology and philosophy seemed overly complex. I encountered the book The Fourth Way and was immediately struck by the completeness of its teaching. It answered questions that no other teaching could answer, without flattering me, without promising anything, except that if I persisted in applying its methods, I would learn about myself. It placed the responsibility on my shoulders, where I felt the responsibility needed to be placed.

Could you quickly outline the purpose of the Fourth Way?
To enable its participants to know themselves and become aware of their own existence.

Unlike many spiritual leaders, Gurdjieff never claimed to have a higher moral stance. In your opinion, was Gurdjieff a good man and did it matter?
Questions like this are exactly where the Fourth Way distinguishes itself from other teachings. To answer it, we must first agree on the definition of ‘good.’ The Fourth Way redefines such basic terms, whose meaning we normally take for granted, so that its participants can understand each other more definitely.

‘Good’ and ‘bad’ only gain practical meaning in relation to an aim. If you lived during the time of Gurdjieff and aimed to discover the unflattering truth about yourself, then Gurdjieff would probably have been a ‘good’ person for you. If you aimed to find a therapist who would listen to your problems and nod his head in supportive approval, then Gurdjieff would probably have been a ‘bad’ choice. People met Gurdjieff with different expectations. Therefore, you read as many opinions about him as the people who met him.

Since ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are relative to one’s aim, the Fourth Way emphasizes developing conscience. Conscience is the ability to know ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in relation to oneself, independent of morality. J. G. Bennett said about Gurdjieff that at different times he made it impossible for each of his students to continue following him. Given that his students had made big sacrifices to be with him, this sounds ‘bad.’ But if Gurdjieff recognized the stage at which a student was ready to stand on their own feet, then from the point of view of their development, forcing them to leave him would be ‘good.’ So we must be cautious in judging whether or not Gurdjieff was a ‘good’ person. Our judgment is always restricted by our understanding.

It seemed towards the end of his life that Gurdjieff stopped believing in this work, that he had somehow failed to transmit the teachings. Even Ouspensky (Gurdjieff’s major advocate) slipped into alcoholism late in life, how does this reflect the real benefits of the practice?
I never got the impression that Gurdjieff stopped believing in his work. Rather, that he felt he came short of completing the task he’d set himself. The same for Ouspensky. They ran out of time to establish a critical mass of people who could continue their work after they’d pass away. Here, again, you read contradictory accounts of what actually happened around the time of their deaths. Some saw madness. Others saw a method to that madness.

Be that as it may, since the Fourth Way aims to develop the understanding of its participants, it isn’t built on the classic structure of guru and followers. There is a strict separation between message and messenger. This means that there can be several messengers in a single fourth way school, for whoever knows more than you is in a position to teach you. It also means that if a messenger disappoints you, it doesn’t necessarily disqualify their message. It forces you away from faith toward verification.

Moreover, considering that this teaching aims to enable us to Be, for ourselves, by ourselves, without the support of any kind of external structure, then it would seem inevitable that the scaffolding of our elders would eventually need to collapse. Only in this way can we learn to stand on our own feet. If a teacher could somehow retain their image of perfection in our eyes, it would stifle our development. So in some strange way, it makes more sense to me that Gurdjieff and Ouspensky would end their careers in seeming failure than in supposed sainthood.

In your own life, could you touch on the personal benefits from this work?
Finding something real in myself, something reliable and worth fighting for. Connecting to a bigger world and being given the privilege to contribute my part to its unfolding.

Is the Fourth Way the beginnings of mindfulness in the west? What makes the work different from the current mindfulness practices promoted from Eckhart Tolle and Jon Kabat-Zinn?
Contemporary teachings feature many Fourth Way elements such as being present, quieting the mind, and avoiding the expression of negativity. Influences travel mysteriously and it is difficult to trace their passage, so it is quite possible that these practices drew their origin from fourth way schools.

In traveling, however, ideas change. Take the idea of being present. One of Gurdjieff’s aphorisms, inscribed above the walls of the study house at his Prieuré in France, was, “Remember yourself always and everywhere.” Self-remembering, in the sense of an effort to maintain the sense of ‘I am in this present moment,’ stood at the foundation of Gurdjieff’s teaching. All of man’s problems were rooted in his non-being, his not remembering himself. It is very likely that Gurdjieff’s ‘self-remembering’ has become the ‘be present’ of our age, now popularized and even commercialized.

Anyone who sincerely tries to be present always and everywhere — not only momentarily and sporadically — will quickly verify the immense difficulty of this task. Can I be present while talking? Eating? Hurrying to work? Moment to moment, breath by breath? The Fourth Way dissects and maps the micro-cosmos man, his lack of unity, the various brains that govern his psychology, and the energies that manifest through him, so that he can learn to use his vessel to remember himself always and everywhere. If you teach people to be present always and everywhere without giving them the detailed user manual of the Fourth Way, you will either bring them to despair or force them to hypocrisy.

This doesn’t altogether disqualify practices that teach sporadic presence. If your aim is to live a more healthy life, to introduce deliberate pauses to the momentum of your day, or to allow more space for emotional interaction with others, then being present sporadically is helpful. A Fourth Way school, however, doesn’t aim at such healing. It aims at transformation.

What should people do who are interested in learning more about this field of self development and joining a fourth way school?
Join our community at beperiod.com. We’ve spread the Fourth Way onto the twelve months of the year. Each month, the entire community focuses on particular areas of work. Members are invited to study that area, share their observations, and ask questions. You’ll get to meet other people from all around the world who practice the Fourth Way. Through their help, my help, and the help of your own efforts, you will how to Be.

Fourth way schools have existed and exist, just as schools of the three traditional ways existed and exist. But they are much more difficult to detect, because—unlike the others—they cannot be recognized by any one practice, one method, one task, or one name.

Rodney Collin Smith

How does this fourth way school work?

LABORS OF THE MONTH

We follow a structured teaching called the ‘Labors of the Month.’ A parallel is drawn between farming and the cultivation of consciousness. As a farmer would attend to different aspects of their land each month, so does a fourth way student attend to different aspects of their psychology. This offers a unified structure for all students, while enabling enough flexibility for each to focus on their specific challenges and needs.

ONLINE WORKSHOPS, GROUPS & FORUMS

Communities are divided into languages (English, Spanish, Russian, etc.). Every weekend, each community meets online for a workshop related to the labor of that month. Workshops convey knowledge and set exercises. Throughout the week, students stay in daily touch via a teamwork app called slack to share questions and observations of working with these exercises.

INTERNATIONAL GATHERINGS

BePeriod gathers internationally twice a year for week-long meetings in destinations that harbor traces of fourth way schools. During the days of these gatherings we tour the sites, and students also get to know each other better. In the evenings and nights we incorporate our findings into a theatrical play. In this way, we step beyond being passive spectators and actively attempt to experience how past teachings were used to cultivate consciousness in their participants.

What is the Fourth Way?

The three ways of developing consciousness correspond to the three brains of our psychology: the body, the emotions and the mind. The first way brings awareness and discipline to the body, the second to the emotions, and the third to the mind. A fourth way school brings awareness and discipline to all three brains simultaneously.

How is the Be Pyramid constructed?

The evolution of man’s consciousness is divided into topics and spread on a pyramid based on their relation to each other.

The Pyramid is divided into five steps: the realization of man’s undeveloped consciousness at the base; the self-knowledge required for developing consciousness above that; and the disciplines that actualize its development at the top. The summit designates conscious man, a man able to govern himself, to be conscious, to Be.

All ancient schools expressed this conscious evolution allegorically, symbolically, or literally. The Be pyramid synthesizes these many expressions into a single whole.

Buddhist School

The first step of the pyramid is illustrated by an episode from the life of Prince Siddhartha called The Great Departure. Siddhartha grows up in a confined and conditioned environment unknowingly. His gradual realization of his prison is symbolic of the first step of evolution: we too must realize our unconsciousness and the possibility of attaining consciousness; our conditioned knowledge and the possibility of acquiring more precise knowledge; our enslavement to morality and the need of awakening conscience.

Judeo-Christian School

The second step of the pyramid is illustrated by the Biblical Creation. The Creation is viewed as an allegorical expression of our micro-cosmos. “Let there be light” represents the light of self-observation; “separating the light from the darkness” represents separating the true from the false within us; naming the objects of creation represents naming the many habits we observe, based on the brain from which they originate. Nature creates us as incomplete beings – incomplete cosmoses – and leaves us to develop further by our own efforts. The Biblical Creation portrays allegorically what we must achieve in practice.

Hindu School

The last three steps of the pyramid are illustrated by the myth of the Churning of the Milky ocean. In this myth, Vishnu winds a giant serpent around mount Mandara and instructs the devas (gods) and asuras (demons) to tug at this serpent, so as to use the mountain as a churning rod with which to churn the ocean of milk. The habits we observed on the second step now play the role of asuras, and are counterbalanced by disciplines which we form through our work. This internal tug-of-war develops our will, and generates the energy needed for transforming our identity from fragmented thoughts, emotions and impulses, into a permanent consciousness that is able to Be.

20th Century Authors on Fourth Way Schools

A fourth way school demands understanding before anything else. Results of efforts are always proportional to understanding.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff

A magnetic centre that brings one to a Yogi school or a monastery is different from the magnetic centre that brings one even to a group that may possibly lead to a Fourth Way school. With that kind of magnetic centre one would not be able to work here: people would not have enough initiative. In the religious way they must obey. In this way people must have broader minds, they must understand.

Peter Demianovich Ouspensky

Fourth way schools have existed and exist, just as schools of the three traditional ways existed and exist. But they are much more difficult to detect, because—unlike the others—they cannot be recognized by any one practice, one method, one task, or one name.

Rodney Collin Smith

The fourth way is never without some work of a definite significance, is never without some undertaking around which and in connection with which it can alone exist. When this work is finished… the fourth way disappears from the given place, disappears in its given form, continuing perhaps in another place in another form. Fourth way schools 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.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff

The Fourth Way must always be related to the varying circumstances of life and can never become fixed and habitual. Suddenly it may be necessary to alter the whole external scheme of things.

Maurice Nicoll

The work itself of schools of the fourth way can have very many forms and many meanings… The quicker a man grasps the aim of the work which is being executed, the quicker can he become useful to it and the more will he be able to get from it for himself.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff

Gurdjieff defined ‘schools’ as organizations that exist for the purpose of transmitting to the ‘Outer Circle’ – that is, ordinary people – the knowledge and powers that originate in the ‘Inner Circle’… The Fourth Way would have no meaning if there were not an ‘Inner Circle’ to which it leads.

John Godolphin Bennett

An organization that can be called a fourth way school is an organization which introduces three forces into its work.

Peter Demianovich Ouspensky

In schools of the Fourth Way it was found that the best conditions for study and work on oneself are a man’s ordinary conditions of life, because from one point of view these conditions are easier and from another they are the most difficult.

Peter Demianovich Ouspensky

A student of a fourth way school works in the midst of life, is surrounded by all the misfortunes of life, and eventually life becomes his teacher.

Maurice Nicoll

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