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Within the octave of Individual Evolution, the Fourth Way actually belongs to the second triad of Ways (after the Mi-Fa shock), beginning with the scale step Fa. Rather than a place of rest or ultimate arrival, the Fourth Way is a stepping-stone toward Sol, the dominant of the octave, which represents the Fifth Way....”

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Materializing the Spirit


Learning To Do

Some Thoughts on Esotericism

When I was a young Seeker of Truth, combing local libraries and used bookstores (rather than the bazaars and brotherhoods of Central Asia, as Gurdjieff did), I knew quickly after dipping into In Search of the Miraculous that I had found something altogether different--ideas of a different order and magnitude. Something clicked inside, a voice whispered, “This is what you've been looking for.”

Only a handful of dust glittering in the late afternoon sun, but the prospector feels the hairs rise on the back of his neck and arms. He has found a vein; he knows a river of gold may well flow beneath his boots.

The more I read, the giddier my sense of discovery, of being “on to something.”

Books followed books, contacts were made. I took my first steps on a pathway leading to the Fourth Way (and ultimately to the Fifth). I have never been able, never wanted, to go back.

So if any of my subsequent remarks seem disrespectful of the Fourth Way, or heretical, to those who continue to follow its precepts (or who at least strive to do so), know they are not intended in that way. I acknowledge my debt. I pay my profound respects.

You can, for instance, find writings that are disrespectful, even dismissive, of Gurdjieff, which portray him as an opportunistic apostate of various secret societies, a horse-trader or even thief of esoteric ideas he himself did not comprehend. Not a few have come forward like this, claiming to have traced Gurdjieff's ideas to their source and to be in possession of parts of the system he left out or was never allowed to see. And yet, after this impressive bluffery, when it comes time for these folks to show their cards, their hand is invariably inferior to Gurdjieff's. By their fruits ye shall know them...

These are the real opportunists, and their books wind up as footnotes in Gurdjieff bibliographies, if that. While Gurdjieff's system, principally as set forth by Ouspensky, remains unique and unprecedented--“new ideas,” as Ouspensky says simply in his introductory remarks to The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution. We still await something of equal or greater magnitude to come forward, some worthy successor.

I do not represent or announce such an arrival.

When I speak of the Fifth Way, it is only in the context of describing a thing that must be so. I am not a Fifth Way Teacher, and nothing here purports to be Fifth Way writing. What I have learned, or gleaned, of the Fifth Way and its principles came from passing through a portal now long closed, a doorway, in fact, that no longer exists. (I suppose there must be other portals, but I am unaware of them.) I publish my thoughts on these matters metaphysical not to entice, but in hopes they may offer some useful guidance to others wandering in the Ways. I have nothing to offer beyond what I will put on these pages.

Limits of the Fourth Way

And yet, having acknowledged my debt, I could not recommend the Fourth Way, as it exists today without Gurdjieff or Ouspensky, to any young Seeker. What would I recommend? That's a harder question. I might recommend the basic books of G and O, but not the practitioners who teach from them as sacred texts.

The reason is this: The ideas and exercises of the Fourth Way are powerful tools for tearing down Personality (or False Personality, to use the Fourth Way redundancy). This is an essential task if one is to free the inner life, one's Essence, from its prisonhouse of Habits, Identifications, Assumptions, Buffers, etc. (And these things will not dissolve on their own!) But Essence cannot remain naked, in a state of utter vulnerability, for very long. A new housing must be built for it, a restructured Personality.

Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were clearly aware of this critical follow-on phase of the Work. Without such an awareness, a Teacher ought not undertake the demolition of any student's existing Personality structure.

No Teacher can predict that any student will see the Work through to the end--or to a point of safe arrival, let's say. But such a point must at least be foreseen by the Teacher as achievable by the student within a specified time. Without a blueprint for a remodeled structure, there is no justification for attacking the existing structure. A good remodeling contractor, by the way, is very careful in the tear-down phase, yanking out only what is absolutely necessary. Before you wield the sledgehammer and crowbar, you need to know exactly what you are doing!

That seems sadly not to be the rule in existing Fourth Way groups, from what I understand. Personality is considered fair game for the Teacher. Newcomers, of course, must be convinced that everything they know is false, that they can do nothing on their own, that they must become like children, learn everything all over again--how to move, how to talk, how to think.

All this is orthodox, all Gurdjieffian. Unfortunately, however, there is no Gurdjieff overseeing the dismantling process with a care to rebuilding stronger and better. No Gurdjieff to exemplify, in his person, what the “New Man” should look and act like. M. Gurdjieff, as we know (from The Material Question and other sources), supported himself and family and followers for decades by fixing things. He could repair almost anything--take it apart, figure out what was broken or missing, then put it back in working order. Applied to his fellow beings, his abiding aim was “The Harmonious Development of Man.”

But current Fourth Way Teachers are more likely to be skilled only in disassembly--analysis, but not synthesis. They can take your psyche apart, piece by piece, catalogue your flaws and skewer your Chief Feature. But neither by example nor instruction are they likely to be of much assistance in sticking you back together again, better than before. Or even just as good.

Indeed, there is a real danger you may be worse off:

“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”      (Matthew 12:43-45, KJV)

For too many Fourth Wayers, the legacy of Work is negative: Man is asleep, man cannot do, man has no permanent “I,” does not know himself, is victimized by his Negative Emotions, Identifications, Buffers, etc. The Work becomes not only a School without graduation, but one where retention is perpetual, where grades are eternally repeated.

The cumulative futility of this has driven many Gurdjieffians, and Ouspenskians, back down the Ways in search of spiritual comfort and wholeness. Rodney Collin, a prominent Ouspensky apostle, ultimately turned to the Second Way and the Catholic Church, as did John G. Bennett, I believe (though I am not certain), toward the end of his life (after his time with Subud). A friend of mine, after decades of Fourth Way Work, achieved his sense of fulfillment through the pranic breathing and yogic meditations of the Third Way.

Many other Fourth Wayers have embraced Sufi mysticism, hoping thereby to uncover the roots of Gurdjieff's ideas and to reconnect with its living matrix. My friend who turned to the Third Way expressed his own dissatisfaction with the Fourth by citing Ouspensky's own subtitle (to In Search...), Fragments of an Unknown Teaching: “But how can you proceed,” my friend complained, “on the basis of admittedly fragmentary knowledge?”

Any spiritual movement or discipline over time will have its apostates. But there seems something else at work here, and I suspect it is this: Apostasy from the Fourth Way is inevitable. The Way of the Sly Man is, by definition, transitional.

The Ways: Completing the Octave

To better illustrate this, we can turn to the Law of Octaves, or the Law of Seven, as Gurdjieff called it. The principles may derive from the physics of acoustics, but they can be applied, as Gurdjieff noted, to cosmology, human events, biology, the growth and development of organizations and movements--almost anything!

If we list the first three Ways on the octave scale, it looks like this:

      Do - First Way: Way of the Fakir
      Re - Second Way: Way of the Monk
      Mi - Third Way: Way of the Yogi

The Fourth Way comes on the fourth scale step:

      Fa - Fourth Way: Way of the Sly Man

But the Octave does not stop at Fa. And neither do the Ways. We continue:

      Fa - Fourth Way
      Sol - Fifth Way
      La - Sixth Way
      Ti - Shock - DO

So we find that the Fourth Way really begins a second triad of Ways, completing (or nearly so) the octave. We can list them again, adding the correlation to the Centers along with the essential quality, or pursuit, of each Way:

      Do - First Way (Moving Center; Courage)
      Re - Second Way (Emotional Center; Faith)
      Mi - Third Way (Intellectual Center; Concentration)
      Fa - Fourth Way (The Void; Knowledge)
      Sol - Fifth Way (Higher E-Center; Understanding)
      La - Sixth Way (Higher I-Center; Consciousness)
      Ti - Shock - DO

Using the correlation above, we find no native Center corresponding with Fourth Way work. Instead, its “home” is the great void, the nothingness that exists beyond the fantastic illusion of Personality. Self-Remembering, that essential Fourth Way exercise, is stepping Alice-wise through the looking-glass of Personality into this vast nothingness.

While it is a liberating experience, entering this great void, it's hardly a place where you would want to abide!

You come upon this same “inhospitable” aspect again when you examine the tonal tendencies within the octave.

Within the octave, Fa is not a place of rest or arrival.

Over the centuries, musicians have discovered that Fa is very unstable. It has a tendency to slide down to Mi (the distance between them is only a half step). In fact, Fa's tendency is so grossly downward, that without a push from below Mi, Fa can't be entered.

Sol, the dominant of the octave, on the other hand, is a point of arrival. And one not easily gotten away from.

Where does Fa--the Fourth Way--lead?

If not on to Sol, the Fifth Way, it must return back to the Third, or Second, or even the First scale step. The alternative is a kind of penitential hell, the ongoing destruction of Personality, a daily dying with no rebirth in sight.

John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness, with no Jesus on the horizon.

Knowledge Without Understanding

Knowledge can be a worthy pursuit in itself. Yet Knowledge, without Understanding, can quite easily be used for unworthy ends. An example of this was given by Gurdjieff as a caution to Ouspensky in speaking about schools (In Search, page 8-9): “...there are other schools which use these or similar [narcotic] substances, not for experiment or study but to attain definite desired results, if only for a short time. Through a skillful use of such substances a man can be made very clever or very strong, for a certain time. Afterwards, of course, he dies or goes mad, but this is not taken into consideration. Such schools exist...”

The ends, in other words, justify the means.

The Fifth Way principle on this matter is explicit: “Means are the end,“ my Teacher said. “We define a thing by the direction it is going. A Teacher would not cut off a man's arm to illuminate him, nor to complete his Individual Evolution.”

The "direction a thing is going" brings us to the seventh scale step, Ti--beyond Understanding, Sol, and Consciousness, La. That ultimate step, before the resounding "DO" of the next octave, represents Aim. (Though other names might be given, Aim will suffice for now.)


The Sly Man strives to raise himself up, to spiritualize himself, to flog himself into enduring wakefulness and Will, to transmute the dross of Personality into the Gold of Individuality. In this struggle, he must incorporate the disciplines of the Fakir, the Monk, and the Yogi, bringing his wayward physical, emotional and mental selves into obedience. And he must perform this immense threefold task not in a retreat, a monastery or an ashram, but while pursuing the daily business of life--keeping his inner agenda and objectives primary over the great clamoring world. And--a fourth task!--he must not forget to remember himself!

It is, alas, the unending task of Sisyphus that the Sly Man has undertaken, pushing the great rock of Personality slowly upward after each inevitable rollback.

© 2000 by Brandon Rice
For a plain-text version of this article, click here.
For a continuation of this discussion, see Materializing the Spirit.

(The writings on this Web site are representations solely of the author; they are not part of any organization, group or school. There is no course of teaching beyond what is offered here. Many more writings on related topics, however, are scheduled for posting in the near future.)

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