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The Fourth Way refers to a concept used by George Gurdjieff to describe an approach to self-development learned over years of travel in the East[1] that combined what he saw as three established traditional "ways," or "schools" into a fourth way.[2] These three ways were of the body, mind and emotions. The term "The Fourth Way" was further developed by P. D. Ouspensky in his lectures and writings. Posthumously, Ouspensky's students published a book entitled Fourth Way, based on his lectures. The "Fourth Way" is sometimes referred to as "The Work," "Work on oneself," or "The System."[3]

According to this system, the chief difference between the three traditional schools, or ways, and the fourth way is that "they are permanent forms which have survived throughout history mostly unchanged, and are based on religion. Where schools of yogis, monks or fakirs exist, they are barely distinguishable from religious schools. The fourth way differs in that it is not a permanent way. It has no specific forms or institutions and comes and goes controlled by some particular laws of its own."

It always has some work of a specific import, and

is never without some task around which and in connection with which it can alone exist. When this work is finished, that is to say, when the aim set before it has been accomplished, the fourth way disappears, that is, it disappears from the given place, disappears in its given form, continuing perhaps in another place in another form. Schools of the fourth way 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.[4]

The Fourth Way mainly addresses the question of people's place in the Universe, their possibilities for inner development, and transcending the body to achieve a higher state of consciousness. It emphasizes that people live their lives in a state referred to as "waking sleep", but that higher levels of consciousness and various inner abilities are possible.[5]

The Fourth Way teaches people how to increase and focus their attention and energy in various ways, and to minimize daydreaming and absentmindedness.[6][7] According to this teaching, this inner development in oneself is the beginning of a possible further process of change, whose aim is to transform a man into what Gurdjieff taught he ought to be.[8]


Gurdjieff's followers believed he was a spiritual Master,[9] possessing higher consciousness; a human being who is fully awake or enlightened. He was also seen as an esotericist or occultist.[10] He agreed that the teaching was esoteric but claimed that none of it was veiled in secrecy; rather, Gurdjieff claimed that many people either don't have an interest or the capability to understand certain ideas.[11] When asked about the teaching he was setting forth, Gurdjieff said, "The teaching whose theory is here being set out is completely self supporting and independent of other lines and it has been completely unknown up to the present time." The exact origins of Gurdjieff's teachings are unknown, but people have offered various sources.[12]

The Fourth Way teaches that humans are not born with a soul, and are not really Conscious, but only believe they are Conscious because of the socialization process. A person must create/develop a soul through the course of his life by following a teaching which can lead to this aim, or he will "die like a dog," and that men are born asleep, live in sleep and die in sleep, only imagining that they are awake.[13] The system also teaches that the ordinary waking "consciousness" of human beings is not consciousness at all but merely a form of sleep, and that actual higher Consciousness is possible.

As exercises in attention, Gurdjieff taught his pupils "sacred dances" or "movements", now known as Gurdjieff movements, which they performed together as a group.[14] Gurdjieff left a body of music inspired by what he heard in visits to remote monasteries and other places, which was written for piano in collaboration with one of his pupils, Thomas de Hartmann.[15]

Three ways

Gurdjieff taught that traditional paths to spiritual enlightenment followed one of three ways:

  • The Way of the fakir
The fakir works to obtain mastery of the attention (self-mastery) through struggles with [controlling] the physical body involving difficult physical exercises and postures.
  • The Way of the monk
The monk (or nun) works to obtain the same mastery of the attention (self-mastery) through struggle with [controlling] the affections, in the domain, as we say, of the heart, which has been emphasized in the west, and come to be known as the way of faith due to its practice particularly by Catholic religious.
  • The Way of the yogi
The yogi works to obtain the same mastery of the attention (as before: 'self mastery') through struggle with [controlling] mental habits and capabilities.

Gurdjieff insisted that these paths - although they may intend to seek to produce a fully developed human being - tended in actuality to cultivate certain faculties at the expense of others. The goal of religion, the goal of spirituality was, in fact, to produce a well-balanced, responsive and sane human being capable of dealing with all manner of eventualities that life may present to them. Traditional methods as such generally failed to achieve this end. Gurdjieff therefore made it clear that it was necessary to cultivate a way that integrated and combined the traditional three ways. Gurdjieff saw himself as being one who presented such a teaching.

The Fourth Way

Gurdjieff said that his Fourth Way was a quicker means than the first three ways because it simultaneously combined work on all three centers rather than focusing on one as is done in the first three ways, that it could be followed by ordinary people in everyday life, requiring no retirement into the desert. The Fourth Way does involve certain conditions imposed by a teacher, but blind acceptance of them is discouraged. Each student is advised to do only what they understand, and to verify for themselves the veracity of the teaching's ideas.

By bringing together the way of the Fakir (Sufi tradition), the way of the Yogi (Hindu and Sikh traditions) and the way of the Monk (Christian and Buddhist traditions, amongst others) Gurdjieff clearly places the Fourth Way at a crossroads of differing beliefs.

Ouspensky documented Gurdjieff as saying that "two or three thousand years ago there were yet other ways which no longer exist and the ways now in existence were not so divided, they stood much closer to one another. The fourth way differs from the old and the new ways by the fact that it is never a permanent way. It has no definite forms and there are no institutions connected with it.[16]

Ouspensky quotes Gurdjieff that there are fake schools and that "It is impossible to recognize a wrong way without knowing the right way. This means that it is no use troubling oneself how to recognize a wrong way. One must think of how to find the right way."[17]


In his works, Gurdjieff credits his teachings to a number of more or less mysterious sources:[18]-

  • Various small sects of 'real' Christians in Asia and the Middle East. Gurdjieff believed that mainstream Christian teachings had become corrupted. (He does not use the term "gnostic").
  • Various dervishes (he did not use the term 'Sufi')
  • Gurdjieff mentions practicing Yoga in his youth, but his later comments about Indian fakirs and yogis are dismissive.
  • The mysterious Sarmoung monastery in a remote area of central Asia, to which Gurdjieff was led blindfold.
  • The non-denominational "Universal Brotherhood".

Attempts to fill out his sketchy and perhaps mythologized account have featured:

  • Technical vocabulary first appearing in early 19th century Russian freemasonry, derived from Robert Fludd (P. D. Ouspensky)
  • Orthodox Esoteric Christianity (Boris Mouravieff)
  • Naqshbandi Sufism, (Idries Shah,[19] Rafael Lefort)
  • Caucasian Ahmsta Kebzeh (Murat Yagan[20])
  • Tibetan Buddhism, according to Jose Tirado.[21]
  • Chatral Rinpoche believes that Gurdjieff spent several years in a monastery in the Swat valley.[22]
  • James George theorises that Surmang, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery now in China is the real Sarmoung monastery.
  • in principle to Zoroaster, and explicitly to the 12th century Khwajagan Sufi leader, Abdul Khaliq Gajadwani (J. G. Bennett[23])

Similarities with other teachings

There are some similarities between the Fourth Way teaching and other spiritual teachings.

  • The stop exercise is similar to the Uqufi Zamani exercise in Omar Ali-Shah's book on the Rules or Secrets of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order.[24]
  • The insistence on the realization in the waking state, the "waking up" techniques are[citation needed] very similar to those used in Karma yoga

Teachings and teaching methods


Basis of teachings

The Fourth Way focuses on the ability to constantly perform "conscious labors" and "intentional suffering."[8]

Conscious Labor is an action where the person who is performing the act is present to what he is doing; he is not absentminded during his act, and neither is he "remembering himself." At the same time he is striving to perform the act more efficiently.

Intentional suffering is the act of struggling against the desires of the physical body such as daydreaming, pleasure, food (eating for reasons other than real hunger), etc... In Gurdjieff's book Beelzebub's Tales he states that "the greatest 'intentional suffering' can be obtained in our presences by compelling ourselves to endure the displeasing manifestations of others toward ourselves"[25]

Gurdjieff claimed that these two acts were the basis of all evolution of man.

The Fourth Way's focus is on raising the level of consciousness a person can experience, with the ultimate aim of creating a permanent higher level of consciousness. Specific methods are employed to achieve this aim, some of which are described below.


One aspect is to strive to observe in oneself the certain behaviors and habits which are usually only observed in others, and to observe them in oneself as dispassionately as one may observe them in others; to observe oneself as an interesting stranger. Another aspect is to attempt to discover in oneself an attention that can differentiate between the actual thoughts, feelings, and sensations that are taking place at the moment, without judging or analyzing what is observed.[26]

The Need for Efforts

Gurdjieff emphasized that awakening results from consistent, prolonged efforts. These efforts are the ones that are made after a person is already exhausted and feels that he can't go anymore, but nevertheless he pushes himself.

The Many 'I's

Many I's is a term which indicates the different feelings and thoughts of ‘I’ in a person: I think, I want, I know best, I prefer, I am happy, I am hungry, I am tired, etc. These feelings and thoughts of ‘I’ usually have nothing in common with one another, and are present for short periods of time. They tie in directly with Gurdjieff's claim that man has no unity in himself. This lack of unity results in wanting one thing now, and another, perhaps contradictory, thing later.


Main article Centers (Fourth Way)

Gurdjieff classified plants as having one center, animals two and humans three. Centers refer to apparatuses within a being that dictate specific organic functions. There are three main centers in a man: intellectual, emotional and physical, and two higher centers: higher emotional and higher intellectual.

Body, Essence and Personality

Gurdjieff divided people into three independent parts, that is, into Body, Essence and Personality.

  • Body is the physical functions of a body.
  • Essence - is a "natural part of a person" or "what he is born with"; this is the part of a being which is said to have the ability to evolve.
  • Personality - is everything artificial that he has "learned" and "seen".

Cosmic Laws

Gurdjieff focused on two main cosmic laws, the Law of Three and the Law of Seven [citation needed].

  • The Law of Seven is described by Gurdjieff as "the first fundamental cosmic law". This law is used to explain processes. The basic use of the law of seven is to explain why nothing in nature and in life constantly occurs in a straight line, that is to say that there are always ups and downs in life which occur lawfully. Examples of this can be noticed in athletic performances, where a high ranked athlete always has periodic downfalls, as well as in nearly all graphs that plot topics that occur over time, such as the economic graphs, population graphs, death-rate graphs and so on. All show parabolic periods that keep rising and falling. Gurdjieff claimed that since these periods occur lawfully based on the law of seven that it is possible to keep a process in a straight line if the necessary shocks were introduced at the right time. A piano keyboard is an example of the law of seven, as the seven notes of the major scale correspond exactly to it.
  • The Law of Three is described by Gurdjieff as "the second fundamental cosmic law". This law states that every whole phenomenon is composed of three separate sources, which are Active, Passive and Reconciling or Neutral. This law applies to everything in the universe and humanity, as well as all the structures and processes. The Three Centers in a human, which Gurdjieff said were the Intellectual Centre, the Emotional Centre and the Moving Centre, are an expression of the law of three. Gurdjieff taught his students to think of the law of three forces as essential to transforming the energy of the human being. The process of transformation requires the three actions of affirmation, denial and reconciliation.

How the Law of Seven and Law of Three function together is said to be illustrated on the Fourth Way Enneagram, a nine-pointed symbol which is the central glyph of Gurdjieff's system.

Use of symbols

In his explanations Gurdjieff often used different symbols such as the Enneagram and the Ray of Creation. Gurdjieff said that "the enneagram is a universal symbol. All knowledge can be included in the enneagram and with the help of the enneagram it can be interpreted ... A man may be quite alone in the desert and he can trace the enneagram in the sand and in it read the eternal laws of the universe. And every time he can learn something new, something he did not know before."[27] The ray of creation is a diagram which represents the Earth's place in the Universe. The diagram has eight levels, each corresponding to Gurdjieff's laws of octaves.

Through the elaboration of the law of octaves and the meaning of the enneagram, Gurdjieff offered his students alternative means of conceptualizing the world and their place in it.

Working conditions and sacred dances

To provide conditions in which attention could be exercised more intensively, Gurdjieff also taught his pupils "sacred dances" or "movements" which they performed together as a group, and he left a body of music inspired by what he heard in visits to remote monasteries and other places, which was written for piano in collaboration with one of his pupils, Thomas de Hartmann.

Gurdjieff laid emphasis on the idea that the seeker must conduct his or her own search. The teacher cannot do the student's work for the student, but is more of a guide on the path to self-discovery. As a teacher, Gurdjieff specialized in creating conditions for students - conditions in which growth was possible, in which efficient progress could be made by the willing. To find oneself in a set of conditions that a gifted teacher has arranged has another benefit. As Gurdjieff put it, "You must realize that each man has a definite repertoire of roles which he plays in ordinary circumstances ... but put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable role and for a short time he becomes himself."

Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man

Having migrated for four years after escaping the Russian Revolution with dozens of followers and family members, Gurdjieff settled in France and established his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Château Le Prieuré at Fontainebleau-Avon in October 1922.[28] The institute was an esoteric school based on Gurdjieff's Fourth Way teaching. After nearly dying in a car crash in 1924, he recovered and closed down the Institute. He began writing All and Everything. From 1930, Gurdjieff made visits to North America where he resumed his teachings.

Ouspensky relates that in the early work with Gurdjieff in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Gurdjieff forbade students from writing down or publishing anything connected with Gurdjieff and his ideas. Gurdjieff said that students of his methods would find themselves unable to transmit correctly what was said in the groups. Later, Gurdjieff relaxed this rule, accepting students who subsequently published accounts of their experiences in the Gurdjieff work.

After Gurdjieff

After Gurdjieff's death in 1949 a variety of groups around the world have attempted to continue The Work. The Gurdjieff Foundation, the largest organization directly spawned by Mr. Gurdjieff, was organized by Jeanne de Salzmann during the early 1950s and was led by her, in cooperation with other direct pupils.[29] J. G. Bennett ran groups and also made contact with the Subud and Sufi schools to develop The Work in different directions. Maurice Nicoll, a Jungian psychologist, also ran his own groups based on Gurdjieff and Ouspensky's ideas. The French institute was headed for many years by Madam de Salzmann - a direct pupil of Gurdjieff. Under her leadership, the Gurdjieff Societies of London and New York were founded and developed.

There is debate regarding the ability to use Gurdjieff's ideas through groups. Some critics believe that none of Gurdjieff's students were able to raise themselves to his level of understanding. Proponents of the continued viability of Gurdjieff's system, and its study through the use of groups, however, point to Gurdjieff's insistence on the training of initiates in interpreting and disseminating the ideas that he expressed cryptically in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson. This, combined with Gurdjieff's almost fanatical dedication to the completion of this text (Beelzebub's Tales), suggest that Gurdjieff himself intended his ideas to continue to be practiced and taught long after his death.

Other proponents are not concerned with external factors, but focus on the inner results achieved through a sincere practice of Gurdjieff's system.


  1. P.D. Ouspensky (1949), In Search of the Miraculous, Chapter 2
  2. P.D. Ouspensky (1949), In Search of the Miraculous, Chapter 15
  3. Gurdjieff International Review
  4. P.D. Ouspensky (1949), In Search of the Miraculous, Chapter 15
  5. G. I. Gurdjieff and His School by Jacob Needleman Professor of Philosophy
  6. G.I. Gurdjieff (first privately printed in 1974). Life is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'
  7. Olga de Hartmann (1973). Views from the Real World, Energy and Sleep
  8. 8.0 8.1 G.I. Gurdjieff (1950). Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson
  9. Meetings with Remarkable Men, Translator's Note
  10. Gurdjieff article in The Skeptic's dictionary by Robert Todd Carroll
  11. P.D. Ouspensky - In Search of the Miraculous p.38
  12. Anthony Storr Feet of Clay, p. 26, Simon & Schuster, 1997 ISBN 978-0-684-83495-5
  13. P. D. Ouspensky In Search of the Miraculous, p. 66, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1977 ISBN 0-15-644508-5
  14. Gurdjieff Heritage Society Book Excerpts
  15. Thomas de Hartmann: A Composer’s Life by John Mangan
  16. "In Search of the Miraculous" by P.D. Ouspensky p. 312
  17. In Search of The Miraculous (Chapter 10)
  18. [ Sources of Gurjieff's Teachings]
  19. Idries Shah: The Way of the Sufi, Part 1, Notes and Bibliography, Note 35
  20. [1]
  21. Gurdjieff-internet
  22. Meetings with Three Tibetan Masters
  23. "The Fourth Way" Bennett's last public lecture, available on CD from J. G. Bennet website).[2]
  24. Omar Ali-Shah:The Rules or Secrets of the Naqshbandi Order. See also: Eleven Naqshbandi principles.
  25. G.I. Gurdjieff (1950). Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, pg 242
  26. Gurdjieff & the Further Reaches of Self-Observation, an article by Dennis Lewis
  27. A Lecture by G.I. Gurdjieff
  28. Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man
  29. The Gurdjieff Foundation
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