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Fourth Way

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In order to approach this system seriously, people must be disappointed, first of all in themselves, that is to say, in their powers, and secondly in all the old ways. A man cannot feel what is most valuable in the system unless he is disappointed in what he has been doing, disappointed in what he has been searching for. [Science, religion, politics, philosophy, theosophy, occultism…] And so on. […] although somewhere something does exist, everything that man knows or is able to learn in the ordinary way is not what he needs.
—George Gurdjieff, quoted in In Search of the Miraculous[1]:242-243

The Fourth Way is what George GurdjieffWikipedia (1867–1949) named his cult-like approach to esoteric self-development. First taught by Gurdjieff in Russia in the 1910s, it is also often referred to as "the Work", "work on oneself", or "the system". It is not clear where all the elements of Gurdjieff's teaching comes from; among other things he borrows terminology from theosophy, some ideas from eastern religions and philosophy, and was influenced by Western existentialism (teaching that souls are developed through conscious struggle, and that life after death is not a given). Gurdjieff claimed that his teaching is "esoteric Christianity"; it includes a panentheistic idea of God, and replaces salvation through Jesus with a difficult task of conscious self-development which very few even try to engage in.

Gurdjieff and his student P. D. OuspenskyWikipedia (1878–1947) broadly divided the Fourth Way teaching into two parts, "psychology" or the study of humanity and inner life and soul development, and "cosmology" or a view of all that exists partly at odds with science and partly extending into purer woo territory. Ouspensky's book In Search of the Miraculous,[1] published after his death,[note 1] gives a readable summary of both the teaching and Ouspensky's years with Gurdjieff.[note 2]

The teaching fragmented over time, as several teachers and their groups came to have somewhat different ideas and emphasis. Following Ouspensky's final break with Gurdjieff, he taught his version of the Fourth Way in London, while Gurdjieff established his "Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man" in France. To both, the other had become a false teacher. Eventually further divisions developed between Gurdjieff's student A. R. Orage'sWikipedia group and Gurdjieff's own, and between various groups and lineages after both Ouspensky's and Gurdjieff's deaths. In Gurdjieff's view, those he disagreed with emphasized some aspects of the teaching too much while ignoring others. Ouspensky believed that Gurdjieff came to require devotion and obedience in an imbalanced way, and that he later went mad.

Psychology of esoteric development[edit]

What makes a guru such as Gurdjieff attractive as a spiritual conquistador is his seemingly shrewd observation that most human beings who are awake act as if they are asleep. Gurdjieff also observed that most people are dead on the inside. I think he meant by these claims that most people are passive sheep and need a guru to give their lives vitality and meaning. That is to say, I believe Gurdjieff correctly noted that most people are neither skeptics nor self-motivated, and that many are easily duped by gurus because they want someone to show them the way to live a meaningful life. He offered to show his followers the way to true wakefulness, a state of awareness and vitality which transcends ordinary consciousness. He was able to attract a coterie of writers, artists, wealthy widows and other questing souls to work his farm for him in exchange for sharing his wisdom. He offered numerous claims and explanations for everything under the moon, rooted in little more than his own imagination and never tempered with concern for what science might have to say about his musings.
Robert T. Carroll, The Skeptic's Dictionary[2]

Gurdjieff claimed that psychology applied to human possibilities, but not to people in general, because people in general were merely deterministic automatons leading reckless and destructive lives, so that the study of them would more properly be called "mechanics". The great majority of people had no hope for development, but a lucky few had a chance, and could possibly develop free will and a soul and much more, if they struggled towards this end sincerely and avoided going astray.[1]

Everyone on Earth is, as the Fourth Way has it, locked into an omnipresent system that tries to keep them asleep. It's somewhat like in Gnosticism, but with the difference that the creator and the world aren't evil, just far from God, the world governed by mechanistic forces that make human life take on qualitatively poor forms (see § Cosmology from the All to nothing). When people begin to strive to awaken, their efforts are countered – including through all which may happen to inwardly turn a person against the teaching. This is in practice similar to the idea of demons testing those who try to be faithful and leading all but the purest astray, though the words and imagery differs, along with the means of staying on the proper path.

Waking sleep and self-remembering[edit]

The central obstacle to development is said to be "waking sleep" and its role in human life. The idea is that something is wrong with human consciousness, that people live as if hypnotized, not remembering themselves – losing themselves in new stimuli, feelings, thoughts – and not keeping track of what they are driven towards and what they are supposed to value and hold true. Modern neuroscience provides some answers regarding this – for starters, the human brain has a default mode networkWikipedia that makes it prone to mind-wandering and distraction when given the chance. Cognitive psychology also studies how the conscious part of the mind tends to observe and comment on, more than to truly decide, how life is lived.

However, there's also a subtler question relating to inward self-perception here. "Self-remembering" means that attention must be (in Ouspensky's terms) double-pointed, towards the object of attention and back towards the observing I at the same time. If the object(s) of attention are in the inner life rather than the outer, this means looking at thoughts, feelings, etc. and simultaneously back at "that which looks". It is being aware of being aware rather than simply being aware.[note 3] While not in itself a kind of meditation exercise, Ouspensky remarked that the experience of self-remembering reminded him of a part of some meditative experiences. His struggle to self-remember reportedly became a revelation for him, as (like for people in general) he generally failed to keep observing his "I" and the (inner and/or outer) world simultaneously as he went about his business in everyday life. He became convinced of his everyday "waking sleep" and need to awaken.

While it is valuable in life to learn to mind one's choices and responses (particularly more reflexive and ingrained ones) as best as one is able with the limited resources provided by the human brain, and strive to improve habits, the basic tendencies remain and are not a pathology (nor a trap set by some evil magician to turn people into his hypnotized and helpless food, as Gurdjieff metaphorically suggested) but rather what the brain does when healthy.

Gurdjieff taught the value of self-observation, but also insisted that self-observation goes wrong if not "self-remembering" at the same time – or if trying to self-analyze at the same time, and also in the midst of negative emotions. He instructed people to try to avoid expressing negative emotions, exercising themselves in that way and hopefully eventually learning to "transmute" them into higher positive emotion, in accordance with his own take on "alchemy".

Beyond physicality[edit]

According to Gurdjieff, it is rare that people have more than a physical body, yet the minimum further development – an astral body – is necessary for survival of death. The following four bodies are supposedly those a person may have, those beyond the first being the three subtle bodies. Three sets of names are provided: Christian, Eastern metaphorical, and theosophical.[1]:41

Bodies of man[1]:41
1st 2nd 3rd 4th
Carnal body Natural body Spiritual body Divine body
"Carriage" (body) "Horse" (feelings, desires) "Driver" (mind) "Master" (I, consciousness, will)
Physical body Astral body Mental body Causal body

In the absence of higher, subtle bodies, all the four areas of functions are still there – but directed from the bottom-up: the physical body deterministically giving rise to emotions, which give rise to thoughts, which give rise to different conflicting wills and senses of what the "I" is concerned with and valuing at different times. By contrast, a fully developed person would be directed a power transcending the material world, which wills the mind to operate intelligently, thought and intelligence in turn directing feeling to obey it, such feeling in turn directing the physical body. The latter kind of person is viewed as possible, yet also practically a living miracle – very rare, and providing what little hope others have to be directed to similarly develop rather than die as vacuous beings.

Apart from the Fourth Way, other options exist according to Gurdjieff, though they practically always end up being much less efficient for human development.

  1. First Way – way of the fakir, struggle to master the body and develop great will over it.
  2. Second Way – way of the monk, struggle to master the world of feeling and develop great will over it.
  3. Third Way – way of the yogi, struggle to master the mind and develop great will over it.

Supposedly, the Fourth Way allows people to work on all three things and accomplish much more in a shorter time, provided that they have a genuine teacher (everyone who disagrees with such a teacher being a fake teacher who leads people astray if they try to teach anything). This of course sounds tempting to those who want to get their lives in order, if the alternative is to spend one or more lifetimes messing around with inferior teachings in order to hopefully become something other than "food for the Moon" in the end.

Essence and personality, conscience and morality[edit]

Distinguishing authentic from inauthentic in psychology in his own early terms, Gurdjieff pointed to the difference between "essence" and "personality" in people – the former being the nature with which people are born, the latter being the cultural roles they are programmed into playing, usually at the cost of losing touch with the essence. Here Gurdjieff's idea of what is authentic begins to differ from the usual ones; in his view, only a person of exceptionally great being such as himself could see the difference between personality and essence in people. Whereas existentialist philosophers and later humanistic psychologists view people as able to learn to judge for themselves what is authentic in themselves – the crucial point being to be true to oneself in that way – Gurdjieff on the contrary claimed that people of personality are asleep and practically always mistake personality for essence and vice-versa, thus worsening their problem if they try to fix it without guidance such as his in-person instruction.

A related question is morality and its place in human life. Gurdjieff set "conscience" apart from "morality", viewing conscience as a form of consciousness relating to emotion and values, while morality consists of cultural reaction patterns and is more a matter of habit and being programmed to be a particular way. The idea was that morality is subjective and culture-specific, while conscience is universal and objective, and that people who have enough "emotional consciousness" would tend to agree with one another – though this is rare as people are asleep. (Here a looser interpretation of Gurdjieff's ideas, no longer taken in absolutes, isn't really off, if considering how culture often trains the majority of people to become systematically blind to particular injustices of their own time and milieu.)

The modern concept of cognitive dissonance is at least superficially similar to Gurdjieff's related idea of "buffers" in feeling and conviction. People can't stand contradictions in their emotional and mental worlds for long, and so they become numb to these, "buffers" forming analogously to the devices which soften bumps between the linked wagons of a train. Gurdjieff claimed most people lack conscience because they grow numb to the totality of their emotional world early in life and then do not recover from this. Consequently, the things that people value and fight for tend to end up contradictory. Likewise, people tend to form false beliefs and cling to these while denying or simply failing to be aware of other things that would contradict them. In this way, the idea which a person has of the self tends to be hopelessly wrong, according to Gurdjieff, and it is a very difficult task to take on board the more objective feedback of a good teacher.

Gurdjieff is at least half-right concerning these things. However, he himself was a man of contradictions, at times messily so – and while psychologically shrewd and observant, he worked to gain psychological control over his students. Instructing people to trust and obey him, and to play roles and to conceal things from outsiders, he ironically ended up enveloping people in what Jean-Paul Sartre called "bad faith". People became more inauthentic as they pushed aside their doubts and misgivings and trusted him over their selves, and were taken for a (sometimes long and costly) ride by the charismatic mystery teacher. Finding themselves no longer truly belonging anywhere else, a gap growing between their authentic selves and Gurdjieff's little groups, they clung to the latter as if hypnotized – his teaching failing to make superhumans out of them over time.

Gary Lachman'sWikipedia biography of Ouspensky, In Search of P. D. Ouspensky,[3] describes Ouspensky's journey in terms of him losing his true self to Gurdjieff's teaching, only recovering it near the end of his life following a great disillusionment in everything. Ouspensky's remaining faith in Gurdjieff after the two separated was first shaken following the latter's 1924 car accident; how could Gurdjieff, with his great being, be subject to accident?[note 4] Boris Mouravieff,Wikipedia a friend of Ouspensky, had long questioned Gurdjieff and viewed him as cynically exploiting Ouspensky and other students. But a fuller disillusionment would take longer. Ouspensky began drinking very heavily, and later died in 1947 (two years prior to Gurdjieff) in very poor health. Near the end, Ouspensky told his students that he had nothing to teach and that they needed to rebuild their understanding themselves.[4]

Where Gurdjieff was most wrong[edit]

This concerns where Gurdjieff was verifiably wrong, as opposed to dealing with unfalsifiable ideas or at times being not even wrong. Gurdjieff was a shrewd amateur psychologist in various ways ahead of his time, yet he also believed in and taught some things now known to be false. This includes – ironically for someone teaching self-work and making great promises in that regard – believing that much in a person's way of thinking, feeling, and relating to the world is unchangeable after childhood, overestimating human psychological imprintingWikipedia and underestimating the potential for later maturation, and for recovery from psychological injury. He did not anticipate later knowledge of neuroplasticity, and basically considered a person who had a too-crappy childhood to be a permanently broken machine who simply couldn't be helped – and viewed many persons, maybe even the vast majority, as "beyond his help" for that reason. In his mind this was a standard explanation for a person not being helped by his efforts.

Classification of humans and animals as having either three main psychological function "centers" or "brains" (in humans), two (in mammals and some other animals), or one (in simpler animals), seem a little bit like the later – yet now obsolete – triune brainWikipedia model. Supposedly all animals have an instinctive and motor brain system or "center", and higher animals have another one which is emotional and social, and humans have a third which adds intellect. The neurological reality, and how brains have been shaped by evolution, is much more messy – the neat and tidy Fourth Way schematic descriptions of what functions beings have and how they work don't match the anatomy or the science.

Centers and functions[edit]

The Fourth Way explains all the functions of people (and other beings) in terms of functional "centers" in their beings. These are divided into three categories or levels – thinking, emotion, and body (moving, instinct, sex). There's also a different kind of level-division – lower centers (thinking, emotion, moving and instinctive), a sex center,[note 5] and higher centers (thinking and emotion). Curiously, the spiritually powerful higher emotional and thinking centers are fully formed and always at work, even if unused and perhaps unusable, in people who have nothing to their beings beyond a physical body.

Gurdjieff taught that people need to primarily work on their lower center functions in order to become able to deal with anything beyond these. The poor state of the lower being is said to be the greatest obstacle to reaching higher in function, dysfunction at lower levels blocking the higher from reach. Thus, the Work instructs people to shy away from any mystical exploration or ambition of their own – which is assumed to be defective due to dysfunction in the lower centers – and instead try to "master the self" in terms of having the inner world and the body under the fullest possible control, in obedience to the teacher.

The higher centers are related to states of consciousness; self-remembering (also called "self-consciousness") is said to use the higher emotional center, and is the one "higher state of consciousness" beyond "waking sleep" that people can easily reach temporarily. Beyond that, much more preparation is said to be needed to reach higher – into the one yet-higher state of consciousness called "objective consciousness" or "enlightenment", in which the higher thinking center reveals the true nature of things.[1]:142

Beyond these centers, another kind of center is important to the Fourth Way – the "magnetic center" is formed by being exposed to and absorbing esoteric teachings, such knowledge building something in a person that exerts a magnetic pull, making the person attracted to seeking out more, and maybe even bringing the person in touch with the Fourth Way. (In turn, the Fourth Way is said to be connected to something greater outside this messy world. See § Law of accident for what such influences may lead to an escape from.) A pure and full magnetic center is needed to form a strong link between the lower centers and the higher centers. It may also be related to crank magnetism – though a Fourth Way follower would say that this is only so if the magnetic center is the corrupt, "black magnetic center" version formed out of A-influences that lead nowhere.

Some variations on Fourth Way ideas diverge from Gurdjieff's big claim that most people have no soul, no spirit, etc. Boris Mouravieff views about half of humanity as being born with a spiritual nature, and the Work as applying to them, though they still have plenty to work on.[note 6] This may lead to a view of all the centers as having a more spiritual than organic nature – as functional ways for the spirit to interface with the body – and makes them conceptually somewhat more like chakras.

Knowledge and being[edit]

A fuller understanding of things requires a combination of intellectual knowledge, practical know-how, and experience in feeling and physical sensation. Most would agree on this, but the Fourth Way goes further, viewing as "understanding" only knowledge rooted in all three functional "center"-levels: thinking, feeling, doing plus sensing.[1]:67 Gurdjieff was highly dismissive of too-theoretical knowledge and of academic life, viewing it as unbalanced, lacking in true understanding, and not very useful. Naturally, his esoteric knowledge was viewed as the opposite, as being combined with practical mastery and rooted in his being.

The Fourth Way roughly divides that which can be developed in a person into knowledge and being. This is related to personality and essence – theory being acquired by the personality, while development of being ties into development of essence (which is a crucial part of being). See § Essence and personality, conscience and morality.

Generally, Gurdjieff viewed others as inferior in being to himself – and for example his student Ouspensky, who produced the most accessible systematization of the theory, as being unbalanced and too much a person of knowledge unmatched by being. Gurdjieff taught that will and being go hand in hand, and that people lack both, meaning that the best they can do is to obey someone like himself – using what little will and being they have to succeed in obeying, they can develop it further under the direction of the guru-like teacher. The results however do not suggest that this actually helped people to grow in being – rather, they became deeply convinced that they were merde[note 7] and then became dependent on their guru and lost sight of all prior understanding that didn't fit the cult-like mold. Through that obedience they began to live and use their being in a lopsided way, while at the same time, replacing much of their knowledge with nonsense.

Types of people[edit]

The Fourth Way strives to redefine everything about humanity and life in terms of its ideas of levels of esoteric development. Thus, there's not one type of man, but seven: firstly, three basic types of personality or character, everyone supposedly born as one of those three – and then four additional types which are the result of esoteric development. As recounted by Ouspensky, Gurdjieff's explanation of the three types that everyone is to be pigeonholed into, is:[1]:71

Man number one means man in whom the center of gravity of his psychic life lies in the moving center. This is the man of the physical body, the man with whom the moving and the instinctive functions constantly outweigh the emotional and the thinking functions.

Man number two means man on the same level of development, but man in whom the center of gravity of his psychic life lies in the emotional center, that is, man with whom the emotional functions outweigh all others; the man of feeling, the emotional man.

Man number three means man on the same level of development but man in whom the center of gravity of his psychic life lies in the intellectual center, that is, man with whom the thinking functions gain the upper hand over the moving, instinctive, and emotional functions; the man of reason, who goes into everything from theories, from mental considerations.[1]:71

Each of these three types, everyone supposedly belonging to one of them, is lopsided – and work on the self in a Fourth Way school aims to create a more balanced type of person, with the lower centers in a more harmonious order. If successful, the result is "man number four". Such a person is prepared for further esoteric development, and for eventually fusing his little "I"s – the divided mess that is his psyche – and become more unified and permanent in the nature of his psyche, reaching a new type of psychological "unity" as a "man number five".

However, people who develop great inner unity and strength and become "man number five" without having been to a Fourth Way school, they're in a very poor shape. Since they were not guided to become "man number four" by the likes of Gurdjieff, they're obviously very unbalanced and have painted themselves into a corner, going wrong in their development – reaching a dead end from which further progress is impossible, without first melting down and losing the nature of "man number five" through terrible suffering. This dead end can be reached, for example, by the rare monk who actually achieves something through spiritual practice.

After becoming "man number five", further progress is possible, developing greater powers and abilities and becoming "man number six" – whose progress becomes permanent when he takes on the end-goal human form of "man number seven".

Other concepts, for example knowledge, can in turn be divided into seven groups according to the type of man concerned. Man no. 1 "learns everything like a parrot or a monkey", through instinct and imitation; man no. 2 merely knows what he likes or dislikes and nothing more, seeking a pleasant life; and man no. 3 lives by words and subjectively logical thinking, like that of scholastics who calculate their way across theology. If neither of these types of knowledge appeal to or seem sufficient to you, you may wonder what else there is. Of course, Gurdjieff has the answer: it is the knowledge of man no. 4, handed down from man no. 5, who got it from man no. 6, who got it from man no. 7. In other words, something better only exists in Fourth Way schools.Do You Believe That? Likewise for art, religion, science, philosophy, etc.

"Abuse of sex"[edit]

Gurdjieff placed great emphasis on everything that people did wrong with sexual energy, or that he imagined was due to this. This mostly did not involve any sexual activity as such – rather, Gurdjieff viewed all manner of neuroticism, excessive nervousness, emotional dysfunction, useless daydreaming, vacuous theorizing, and counterproductive mental habits, as being due to sexual energy being usurped and misused. Supposedly, the lower centers are really bad at doing what they're by nature meant to – instead, they keep stealing subtle energies from one another, and from the sex center (which in turn has to compensate by taking coarser energies from the lower centers), resulting in all manner of everyday small-scale dysfunction.[5]

Occasionally these ideas of the "abuse of sex" are closer to conventional metaphorical ideas, such as "mental masturbation". At other times it is sillier and rivals Freud, except for centering around ideas of the transformation of subtle energies as part of the esoteric metabolism of the human being. Ironically, most people today would probably view much of Gurdjieff's theorizing in various areas as amounting to mental masturbation.

Gurdjieff was also concerned that people were wasting their subtle energies, needed to build or coat higher parts of their beings, through pointless sexual activity – though he was more concerned with masturbation than with intercourse as being a waste of energy. He even advocated both male circumcision and female circumcision for children in order to prevent the "disease" of masturbation. Gurdjieff had sexual relations with a great many women, and children with a large number of his female pupils; this was apparently not an abuse of sex in his mind. Apart from that, he had staunch, highly conservative ideas about what's healthy and pathological in all things sexual. This included opposition to contraceptives.[5]

Dividing followers from non-followers[edit]

If you were to put together everything that people are able to say about this system, you would not believe in it yourselves. This system has a wonderful property: even a mere contact with it calls forth either the best or the worst in people. You may know a man all your life and think that he is not a bad fellow, that he is even rather intelligent. Try speaking to him about these ideas and you will see at once that he is an utter fool. Another man, on the other hand, might appear to have nothing in him, but speak to him on these subjects and you find that he thinks, and thinks very seriously.
—George Gurdjieff, quoted in In Search of the Miraculous[1]:242

Only those greatly disappointed with themselves, in their abilities, and in all alternatives to the Fourth Way are mentally ready to study it, Gurdjieff taught. Such people were worth talking to, to try to bring them to "the system", while other people weren't. (This is similar to the usual demographic of easy recruits for cults.) People were however not advised to give up all that they did in their former lives – rather, they were advised to keep it up while turning it into a role to be played, while their real interest and concern moved to the teaching.

Ouspensky recounted how he and others in his group studying with Gurdjieff were painfully disappointed in how others failed to understand their new ideas, and how others responded to how they were changing; at best, friends outside the group were indifferent, and often thought that they had changed for the worse, becoming less interesting and more mechanical, parroting Gurdjieff rather than thinking for themselves, etc.[1]:244 By contrast, the view from inside Gurdjieff's groups was that they were learning first-hand just how deep in the grip of everyday "waking sleep" all others were, and how they were seeing the tragedy of the inability of the vast majority to understand, or to be interested in, these vitally important ideas.

Cosmology from the All to nothing[edit]

The Fourth Way cosmology is similar to some other esoteric and later New Age cosmologies in that it divides reality into seven levels that are qualitatively different and reflect different levels of consciousness, degrees of closeness to God, and forms of life. Instead of calling these "dimensions", or "densities" (like the Ra Material which has a scale of seven such), these are called "cosmoses".[note 8] Details of how it's named and pictured and where humanity is placed differ among such teachings. In the Fourth Way, the seven cosmoses are:[1]:205

  1. Protocosmos – the first cosmos (a.k.a. the Absolute, All, or God)
  2. Ayocosmos – the holy cosmos (a.k.a. Megalocosmos – the great cosmos – or "all worlds")
  3. Macrocosmos – the large cosmos (a.k.a. the Milky Way)
  4. Deuterocosmos – the second cosmos (a.k.a. the Solar System)
  5. Mesocosmos – the middle cosmos (a.k.a. Earth and the other planets)
  6. Tritocosmos – the third cosmos (a.k.a. man)
  7. Microcosmos – the small cosmos (a.k.a. the atom – a different, "alchemical" idea of it)

Gurdjieff's idea of an atom is, "the smallest amount of any substance in which the substance retains all its properties, physical, chemical, psychical, and cosmic". Thus, a single molecule of water is smaller than a water "atom", which would be the smallest quantity of water that "fully behaves" like water. (It's not clear how the psychical and cosmic properties are meant to be measured, though.) Atoms have different size in different cosmoses – subtler matter in a more elevated cosmos has smaller atoms – the size and coarseness of an atom in a cosmos being a function of the number of laws governing existence in that cosmos (see next subsection).

Ouspensky relates that a different idea is also used, in which Microcosmos refers to a human and Tritocosmos refers to all organic life on Earth. (He later elaborated that scheme into a table of how time differs for life in the cosmoses, comparing a human's (Microcosmos) breath at 3 seconds, to the "breath" of Earth's biosphere at 24 hours, and supposedly of Earth as a planet at 79 years, then the solar system at 2.5 million years, and so on.) Gurdjieff however introduced and made the earlier-listed definitions the basis for discussions first. While Gurdjieff had promised to explain the origin of the names and why the cosmoses were named that way, he never did so.

Life and the cosmoses[edit]

World Laws Body
Absolute 1
All worlds 3
All suns 6 Fourth body
Sun 12 Mental body
All planets 24 Astral body
Earth 48 Physical body
Moon 96
(Absolute) 192

Slightly different labeling (Earth and Moon for the lowest two) is used when placing the "bodies of man" (see § Beyond physicality) in relation to the cosmoses, as in this table.[1]:94 It includes the seven cosmoses with life, in which a panentheistic God is seen as able to express itself, and finally a second "Absolute" at the bottom sometimes considered – reflecting how God is seen as the boundary of everything, reaching from All at the top to nothing at the bottom.

This table also includes the number of "laws" in each cosmos, under which that in a given cosmos exists. Gurdjieff described these laws as the subdivision and branching out of the will of God into an increasingly mechanical and constrained structure, the whole thing referred to as the "Ray of Creation". Cosmoses and substances belonging to them can interact with adjacent cosmoses in a nested way, finer substances belonging to a cosmos with fewer laws being able to exist either independently of, or together with, coarser substances from the more mechanical cosmos "below".

The placement of the subtle bodies at higher cosmos levels shows how, supposedly, the very few who truly have them are super-beings in relation to those without. Those with higher bodies are or can be directed by parts of the self that are subject to fewer laws constraining existence – almost like walking gods, which is how many devotees regarded Gurdjieff. Higher bodies can reincarnate in lower bodies, taking control of them – though work may be needed in order for the connection between them to work properly.

Beyond humanity, these cosmoses come with the idea that things are alive at every scale – and Gurdjieff also taught that planets, moons, stars, etc. are living beings that change over time in ways irreconcilable with science. Instead of everything breaking down over a very long time, the Moon is slowly growing into a planet like Earth, while Earth is very slowly developing towards becoming more like Jupiter, and Jupiter is very slowly turning into a star (and its moons into planets), etc. Furthermore, the Moon needs plenty of food to grow up – and that's where organic life on Earth enters the picture!

People become "food for the Moon" upon their death, unless they develop higher bodies which can survive and reincarnate. The need for such "food" is why there are so many wars, such as World War I in the time of the early Fourth Way teaching; the heavenly bodies are influencing the helpless meat robots of Earth into doing their bidding, and the hungry Moon makes them kill one another in order to make it possible for the Moon to grow up, rather than starve and wither away.[note 9]

If only humanity hadn't been so hopelessly degenerate, so far from the magical wonders of the ancient golden age, it could have fed that which depends on it in a better way, by being highly conscious and being and living well – but since humanity lives in a terrible stupor, the only way it can contribute is to go nuts and kill off part of itself from time to time. But one can help reverse that terrible trend before it's all too late and all of humanity is destroyed in a fiery disaster – by becoming part of a Fourth Way cult and developing into a superman after decades of hard work if you're lucky, and then going on to influence others in turn!Do You Believe That?

Law of three[edit]

Supposedly, every phenomenon everywhere, in both the inner world and the outer world, is the result of a combination of three forces. This idea seems to come from Oriental religious sources, being present among some yogis which Gurdjieff would categorize as following the "Third Way". Not content with that, Gurdjieff claims that "The teaching of the three forces is at the root of all ancient systems."[1]:77

  1. Active/dynamic, or affirming
  2. Passive/static, or denying
  3. Neutralizing, or reconciling

According to the Fourth Way, science misses at least one out of three forces everywhere, studying only two of three parts of what gives rise to each thing according to "real, exact knowledge". However, the Fourth Way does not provide any improvements on scientific theory or predictions, or anything testable; indeed the missing "third force" is said to be invisible to our senses and ordinary instruments, as much as an extra spatial dimension to space would be.

Element Fire Air Water Earth
Force Active Passive Neutralizing (None)
State Carbon (C) Oxygen (O) Nitrogen (N) Hydrogen (H)

The three forces are also placed in relation to alchemy and the four elements in the Fourth Way. Gurdjieff and his students worked with tables of numbered cosmic substances, or "hydrogens", at different cosmos-levels. When a substance "conducts" one of the three "forces", it is given a different name describing its "state", in the form of reusing a different name for a chemical element with a nonstandard meaning. The Fourth Way theory promises the potential of exploring in this way how everything in existence – both physically and beyond the physical world – is supposedly related as a precise, esoteric science. Nothing appears to have come of this kind of pseudoscientific tabulation.

Various commentators on the Fourth Way have also tried to identify the three forces in various phenomena. Such explorations tend to be loose, metaphorical, and to mention three things giving rise to or somehow being involved in this or that – saying that in such and such a circumstance, the three forces are such and such things. For example, father, mother and child. Or three things needed to bake bread. Or the context which determines what action is morally good and bad.

Law of seven[edit]

The law of seven is connected not only to the seven cosmoses, but also to the unfolding of all processes in time, in the Fourth Way cosmology. It is also called the law of octaves: groups of seven steps repeating, octave after octave, in processes in ways said to be governed by this law. Specifically, Gurdjieff relates Ptolemy's intense diatonic scaleWikipedia to the unfolding of everything – using musical notes and the intervals in said just intonationWikipedia to "explain" the structure of absolutely everything that goes on.[1]:125

The central idea is that things very, very generally tend to go around in circles, aimlessly – unless given a well-placed push or injection of energy at the right moments in the right places. Obviously, science and technology doesn't reflect any real knowledge of how processes unfold and can be guided so as to reach the ends desired.[citation NOT needed] Instead, the Fourth Way esotericist is privileged to study and master the true such secrets of the universe – contemplating sequences of seven musical notes, the two just diatonic semitonesWikipedia that form the smallest intervals between adjacent notes, mapping the notes and small intervals to esoteric concepts, and lining up and combining such ideas.

It's a kind of catch-all explanation for why history seems to repeat, and large-scale and long-term efforts of people go wrong. The study of this doesn't seem to have helped Gurdjieff et al. avoid such patterns in their own lives, though. Oh, if only people could track where each process is at in terms of the musical notes, and intervene each octave, all manner of things could be kept from going astray, from losing speed or energy or gradually diverging from the aim set. It's kind of like magic, and works about as well in practical terms.

Law of accident[edit]

The chief adversary of humanity is the law of accident, a.k.a. the rule of the Moon. It's inseparable from the general condition of human life, not directed consciously but instead unfolding as the result of many clashing mechanical processes. The law of accident generally keeps things messy and aimless, life on the whole proceeding like water circling a drain, as "food for the Moon". To escape the omnipresent grasp of accident, so that one can control one's future, or at least oneself to some degree, one needs the help of a cult – because a cult is totally outside of this world, or so it may tell you. Something outside this world of accident may reach in, through a mysterious teacher, or to begin with some esoteric books, and seemingly unexpectedly or at random link people with itself – guiding them and maybe snatching them up, saving them from accident.

As far as the accident-driven world is concerned, the loss of some person or other, who becomes subject to the "law of exception" in place of the law of accident, isn't a big deal. A little like the loss of a cell or two in the body, it's not even noticed in the grand scheme of things. It's kind of like a very small accident, too small to bother with. Still, according to Boris Mouravieff, who refers to the law of accident as the "general law", the forces governing this world try to keep such losses to a minimum, working to derail people or interfere with their progress similarly to the classical Christian concepts of temptation or being tested.

In Fourth Way terms, there are several conflicting cultural and psychological influences in this world. The main influence saturating the world is called A-influence – all the usual cultural stuff – and in terms of what the esotericist values, it's vacuous and its orientation random, different such influences canceling out or leading people nowhere in the end. Those looking for spiritual rather than worldly things, and to develop something which outlives physical life or has a greater meaning, orient themselves towards the alternative, B-influences – esoteric knowledge which has entered this world. It transforms something inside a person simply by learning and absorbing it, leading to a journey of seeking. Except that very many spiritual influences fail to make the cut, having been watered-down and distorted and turned into A-influences, or being lousy imitations of the real thing, or perhaps simply the wrong brand – belonging to a competing teacher.

A real, genuine esoteric teacher strongly linked to something beyond accident has a C-influence in person, which may guide others who've absorbed B-influences to work on themselves to become similar. If a C-influence spreader writes stuff down, then it reaches people who read the books in the more indirect form of B-influences, and so is the case now with both Gurdjieff's and Ouspensky's works according to the Fourth Way, regardless of whether you think Ouspensky ever became a man of C-influence himself or merely passed along B-influence.

It's also possible for a teacher to grow powerful and able in esoteric terms while not linked to a real "esoteric center" outside this world. Such a spiritual brute may be an agent of chaos and misdirection in this world, while exploiting people for the usual motives – money, status, sex, etc. Mouravieff believed that this was the case with Gurdjieff, who squeezed all three of those things out of his followers in large quantities.

See also[edit]

  • Enneagram – A Fourth Way concept, later popularized as a personality profile system.
  • Laura Knight-Jadczyk – Until 2017, she drew heavily on Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Mouravieff, etc. and viewed her teaching as the new Fourth Way.
  • Spiritual evolution

External links[edit]


  1. Originally simply titled Fragments of an Unknown Teaching by Ouspensky, "In Search of the Miraculous" was added and became the main title after his death for marketing purposes.
  2. Ouspensky became Gurdjieff's student in Russia for a time, until they eventually began to clash and then parted ways around the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, making separate escapes to Western Europe.
  3. Self-remembering seems to correspond to both "being in awareness" in Advaita teachings, and the Buddhist practice of 'mindfulness'.
  4. Gurdjieff was supposed to have escaped the "law of accident" (§ Law of accident) through the nature of his great, well-developed being that transcends the natural laws others are subject to. Ouspensky also came to think that Gurdjieff went mad after the July 8th, 1924 car accident in France, in part because of Gurdjieff's later works, including Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.Wikipedia
  5. The sex center is usually grouped with the lower centers, but sometimes with the higher centers. It is claimed to use subtle energies and substances of a more rarefied kind, like the higher centers.
  6. The other half of humanity, "pre-Adamic humans", often play leading roles in society and generally do at least as well in physical life. In some positive future of great spiritual transformation for life on Earth, these may advance to a place like that of humans with souls now, while humans with souls now move on to a next level of existence.
  7. Gurdjieff liked using the French word for "shit" to tell his students what they and others were.
  8. NeoplatonismWikipedia arrived at only 4 levels of cosmic being. Various New Age teachings have more than 7 levels, fuzzily describing varying numbers of "dimensions".
  9. To be fair, astronomy wasn't nearly as well-developed back in the 1910s as it is now, and rejecting standard explanations in such ways may have been a little less silly then.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 In Search of the Miraculous by P. D. Ouspensky (1949) Harcourt, Brace and Company.
  2. Gurdjieff, The Skeptic's Dictionary
  3. Gary Lachman: In Search of P. D. Ouspensky: The Genius in the Shadow of Gurdjieff. Quest Books, 2004, ISBN 0-8356-0840-9.
  4. Gary Lachman: In Search of P. D. Ouspensky. Second Quest Edition, 2006 – Chapter XVI, XVII, Epilogue
  5. 5.0 5.1 Petsche, J.J.M. (2014). Gurdjieff on Sex: Subtle Bodies, Si I2, and the Sex Life of a Sage. In: Bogdan, H., Lewis, J.R. (eds) Sexuality and New Religious Movements. Palgrave Studies in New Religions and Alternative Spiritualities. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.