”And I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.”
There is a danger to the seeker who begins to approach Gurdjieff’s teaching, and no preface to these ideas would be fair and complete without mentioning it. As his or her eyes begin to open and the seeker begins to wake up, it will no longer be possible to ever again completely close them or to go so completely back to sleep. Never being able to go completely back to sleep is a most beautiful but also a most demanding experience. Gurdjieff gives us this warning in the form of an aphorism:
„Blessed is he who has a soul, blessed is he who has none, but woe and grief to him who has it in embryo.” The Aphorisms, Views from the Real World, p. 283.
„Blessed is he that hath a soul; blessed also is he that hath none; but grief and sorrow are to him that hath in himself its conception.” Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, p. 246.
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866? –1949) was born of a Greek father and an
Armenian mother at Gyumri (formerly Alexandropol) in what is now the independent
republic of Armenia. His early years are shrouded in mystery, but involved extensive
travel throughout Asia and North Africa before he appeared publicly in Moscow in
1912 and began to teach. He did not claim to teach anything new, but rather to restate
ancient truth largely lost to contemporary societies.
Among Gurdjieff’s earliest pupils was Piotr Demianovich (P.D.) Ouspensky, who was
at that time widely known among the intelligentsia of Russia. His book on the higher
dimensions of time, Tertium Organum, had caused a minor sensation upon its publication
in 1912. Ouspensky became Gurdjieff’s pupil in 1915, but would split from him after
8 years and go on independently to teach the Work, as Gurdjieff’s teaching became
known. An experienced writer and journalist, Ouspensky was the ideal pupil to
explain the teaching in an organized fashion.This he did; his presentation of the Work
teaching was privately circulated at first, and later published as Fragments of an
Unknown Teaching. This title was later changed to In Search of the Miraculous. It was
published in 1949 just before Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. The
broader publication of the teaching of the Work through these two books took place
only after the death of Ouspensky in 1947 and of Gurdjieff in 1949. In Search of the
Miraculous remains today the most widely used text of Gurdjieff’s teaching, and in it
is revealed another name for the Work teaching: the Fourth Way. The Fourth Way (to
immortality) is a way that is practiced in the midst of life, whereas the traditional ways,
of which there are three, the physical, the emotional and the intellectual, have all
required retreat into a secluded or monastic setting.
Gurdjieff himself gave the teaching out only piecemeal to his early pupils. This group
fled Russia with Gurdjieff at the height of the Bolshevik revolution, going to
Constantinople (Istanbul) and eventually settling at a country estate known as the
Chateau du Prieuré des Basses Loges near Fontainebleau outside Paris. Gurdjieff
maintained a residential community at this site beginning in the autumn of 1922. Its
eventual decline, beginning with injuries Gurdjieff suffered in an automobile accident
in 1924, led to his closing the Prieuré to new pupils shortly thereafter, and eventually
to his losing the property entirely in 1932. Gurdjieff, having moved to Paris, continued
teaching small groups of pupils from the mid-1930s until his passing in 1949.
Beginning in 1924, Gurdjieff turned his energies to the writing down of his teaching, mainly in allegorical form through the overall title of All and Everything. The title All and Everything was intended by Gurdjieff to apply to what he called the three series of
his writings, the principal one of which is the first series, An Objectively Impartial
Criticism of the Life of Man, with the subtitle of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.
The title and subtitle were later reversed. Gurdjieff continually revised Beelzebub’s
Tales to His Grandson, based on the responses of pupils to whom chapters were
read, almost until his death in 1949. These revisions were mostly designed to make
the book more difficult to understand. Gurdjieff wanted his students to work to gain
understanding, and not just have ideas handed to them. Beelzebub’s Tales to His
Grandson is considered Gurdjieff’s masterpiece and is the key written expression of
The second series of the All and Everything trilogy is the book entitled Meetings With
Remarkable Men. This is quasi-autobiographical, and by all accounts, an allegorical
description by Gurdjieff of his life as a child and then as a young man. Gurdjieff wrote
this as an adventure, recounting his travels in the search for hidden knowledge in
Asia and northern Africa, which he brought forth later as his teaching.
Although Gurdjieff traveled widely in Asia and northern Africa, whether he actually
undertook travels in the form described in the book is open to question.A hidden monastery supposedly at the center of the teaching has yet to be found, and at least two expeditions mounted by later students in pursuit of its location were unsuccessful. Some students have speculated that the teaching brought by Gurdjieff came from within him. This is in keeping with the tradition, described by Gurdjieff in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, of theallegorical Ashiata Shiemash, whom he characterized as a „messenger sent from above.
” Such messengers, appearing from time to time in the history of humanity, have
sometimes been the precursors of what later became known as a religion.
Unlike the seemingly impenetrable Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, Meetings
with Remarkable Men is written in a straightforward, easily understandable manner.
In 1979 it was made into a motion picture of the same name, produced and directed
by students of Gurdjieff’s teaching, including Peter Brook who directed the film.
The third series of the All and Everything trilogy is a book that appears to be
incomplete but which was nevertheless published in 1976, through the efforts of
Gurdjieff students, under the title, Life is real only then, when „I am.” It contains
several important exercises and a description by Gurdjieff of his great discovery of
who he is. This is the „Who am ‘I’?” that we each need to discover for ourselves.
The All and Everything trilogy, along with Views from the Real World (a collection of
talks given by Gurdjieff), and Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, are the
principal written texts of Gurdjieff’s work. In Search of the Miraculous is unique in the
sense that the majority of it appears in quotation marks as Ouspensky’s verbatim
recollections of talks Gurdjieff gave to early groups. It is a very valuable and organized
explanation of Gurdjieff’s teaching, and far more detailed than this introductory text
can offer. But one has to read In Search of the Miraculous with care, as there are
places in it, appearing as quotations from Gurdjieff, which are at odds with what Gurdjieff
actually wrote in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. One suspects that these
variances reflect both Ouspensky’s level of understanding of some of Gurdjieff’s
ideas, which Gurdjieff cleared up in his own writings, and Ouspensky’s personal
views about certain types of people. Gurdjieff, in his own practice, excluded no
serious seeker from receiving his teaching.
A more detailed biography and speculative hypothesis of who Gurdjieff really is
appears in Appendix 1.
b. Sleeping humanity
Behind Gurdjieff’s teaching lies the idea that human beings live and die in a state of
sleep, but do not realize this. In this sense, all human beings are divided into two
categories: those who realize they are asleep and who are attempting to awaken,
and those who do not know.The idea that human beings live mostly in a kind of sleep
state is not new. For example, we can find it expressed by Plato in his allegory of the
Cave in The Republic. But Gurdjieff’s teaching brings us methods about how to
awaken from this „waking sleep,” with all the freedom and cosmic benefit that this
gives, because through the teaching we eventually awaken to who we are.
Because Gurdjieff’s teaching is a „how to” teaching, it is directed at the category of
human beings who realize they are asleep and who are attempting to awaken. For the
category of human beings who do not know that they are asleep, there is no need
for this teaching. It is only when a person begins to recognize the sleep of his
mechanicalness and looks for a way to awaken that this teaching becomes relevant.
A primary feature of this state of sleep is the illusion that we are each separate
from one another. In terms of our personalities, the aggregate of experience in this
lifetime, this is true. Our personalities are each different from one another.
Who am I?
Another primary feature of this state of sleep is that we regard our personalities as
real. By engaging in the method of the Gurdjieff Work, we come to realize over time
that our personalities are not real in the absolute sense. They are temporal features
that disintegrate with physical death or soon thereafter. Through the Work, we come
to see that, in reality, we are not our personalities, even though our personalities are
important. We are what Gurdjieff has called essence, our essential and imperishable
being. In essence we are not separate from one another. In essence we are
conjoined in identity with the universal.
This teaching then, is the „how to” hidden at the root of every religious tradition. It is the
teaching about „how to” become more conscious and, by doing so, to discover who we
really are. We shall examine the fundamental ideas of this „how to.”
c. The verification of new ideas
Contained in this material are assertions that you will not be able to verify, at least not in the
ordinary way that verification is understood. Therefore, it is necessary to state at the
outset that it is not a good idea to accept anything merely because it is asserted.
Indeed, a healthy dose of skepticism mixed with a reasonable amount of credulity is
the best attitude for the student who comes across these ideas for the first time. Don’t
believe anything, but at the same time do not close yourself off to new ideas. Be open to
them.Take them as hypotheses subject to your own personal verification.
Everything in our life is conditioned by our habits, by the few „rules” we learned as
children; but Gurdjieff’s teaching bring us many new ideas, many new possibilities.
The aim here is to present them to you as well as is possible in an introductory text,
and to help you to be a little more conscious of yourself during the studying of this
material. Much more will be said about the technique suggested by Gurdjieff to help
us become more conscious of ourselves. For now, just try to be aware of the physical
sensation of your body as you proceed through the text.
Gurdjieff did not claim to bring anything new. When asked, he called his teaching
„esoteric Christianity.” But one will also find elements of Sufi teaching (esoteric Islam),
Kabbalistic teaching (esoteric Judaism), Mindfulness teaching (esoteric Buddhism), and
Advaitic teaching (esoteric Hinduism) embedded in what Gurdjieff taught. This is
because the confidential or esoteric side of all religious teachings is the same. It is
only on the exoteric side that they differ, because the exoteric side is the side of form,
and in form they do differ.
All these esoteric teachings are ancient. In that sense Gurdjieff did not bring
anything new. What he did bring was a restatement of truth embedded in these
ancient traditions, but in a modern form comprehensible to 20th and 21st century
humanity. In this sense, and for those who have not been exposed to esoteric
teaching, these are new ideas.
It is necessary to hear about and receive new ideas; otherwise we can make no
progress. But these ideas must be such that they can begin to offer us the possibility
to choose our inner state, the state of our being, instead of continuing to be the slaves of
our body, of our passions and of the opinions which come from sources other than our
own thinking and reason. It is equally essential to be able to sense and to feel within, a
„resonance,” an inner response to such new ideas.
We no longer live in accord with our spiritual nature; in fact our entire life is based on
opposite ideas which we take as normal. Hence, the question arises: „How can we
receive new ideas?”
The „new” ideas may be of great value, but if we do not receive them in a new way,
a way different from the one we are used to and which serves us to accept ordinary
beliefs, then even the most revolutionary ideas will be immediately transformed and
will become the same as our ordinary opinions. It is hard to change one’s way of
thinking and one’s attitudes. We cannot choose how to think or feel. We think in the
manner taught to us since birth. We feel as our emotions in reaction to external and
internal circumstances compel us to feel. We can say that our thought pattern has
been poisoned by what we call „a good education.” Each one of us thinks by association
in function of his habits and in accordance with a mental attitude copied from parents,
relatives, teachers, and friends. In addition, we act responsibly and independently
only rarely; most of our supposedly deliberate „actions” are, in fact, only reactions.
In our ordinary state, we do not think. In truth, what we call „our” thoughts come from
outside and go through our mind, but do not arise from it. Thoughts do not originate
in us, but to be true men and women, we should think by and for ourselves our own
thoughts, and not submit to those coming from other, outside sources. Our age is the
age of indoctrination. All the means of diffusion that surround us, newspapers,
publicity posters, radio, television, the worldwide web, have as their primary aim: to
convince us by all means to buy this item, to watch that show, to believe this opinion,
to vote for such a political party, to admire a self-proclaimed „artist” and his work, to
subscribe to such a newspaper or magazine, etc. In short, we are manipulated to
react to outside stimuli rather than to act from within, from what Gurdjieff has called
„objective conscience” or „objective consciousness.”
Consequently, we consume without thinking and we believe what we are told we
must believe. We have become the more or less consenting slaves of publicity and
of propaganda, which seek to stop us having any inner freedom of thought, and to
accept ready-made thoughts.
Who am I?
Without any doubt, the human psyche and thinking are becoming more and more
automatic. Most people passively accept this bewitchment and are satisfied with
being good „machines,” set in motion by someone pushing their buttons and obeying
each movement of the steering handles; or with being perfectly good puppets, without
ever wondering who it is that pulls their strings and why. In consequence the
„essence” of most people, the real being, falls asleep almost from birth and, receiving
no suitable nourishment, fails to grow in the understanding of who it really is.
The great teacher, Jesus Christ, knew this very well when he said to his disciples:
„Let the dead bury their dead.” (Matthew, 8:22, Luke, 9:60)
If we want to avoid such a fate, we must ask ourselves the questions: How can we
continue living in the world as it is, but without being entirely at its mercy? How can
I think my own thoughts for myself? How can I choose my feelings and my behavior?
To become capable of resisting all the subliminal and other suggestions that assail us
from all sides, we must be „watchful.” We must be more present to our own individual
thoughts. We must exert the greatest possible discrimination in accepting what we hear
and see, and especially we must endeavor to be in the state that Gurdjieff calls „selfconsciousness.”
To be able to discriminate properly and to think rightly, our own „I”
must be present where and when the thought is.
To achieve this, that is, for our thinking to become freer than usual, more our own
thought and less the thoughts blindly following formulas learned in childhood and
coming from outside, we must begin by intentionally impeding our usual thought
pattern. Then we will have a better discernment and, in a way, a more critical mind.
Having a „critical mind” does not mean that our mind will be more encumbered by
prejudices and more apt to refute or accept things without reason. It means that we
will pay more attention to what we accept and to what we reject, and why. Thus, we
become more free to think for ourselves. Therefore, in explaining Gurdjieff’s teaching,
the attempt is made to introduce several new ideas.
We cannot guarantee that you will hear new ideas, that is, ideas you never heard
before, from the start; but if you are patient you will very soon begin to notice them.
And then we wish you not to miss them, and to try not to interpret them in the same
old way. 2
d. Who am I?
The question, who am I, has sometimes been called Gurdjieff’s first question, and it
is followed by the related second question: what is the purpose of human life?
It would be presumptuous to think that anyone, with finality, can answer these questions
that have puzzled philosophers, theologians, and scientists throughout the ages. But
Gurdjieff suggests solutions and also gives us methods to work on ourselves in order
to come to our own understanding of the answers to these questions.
In brief, we can say that mankind is faced with a problem of identity. We do not know
who we are, where we came from, or why we are here. As we explore Gurdjieff’s teaching,
we are led to see that the root of the mystery lies at the root of our own being, somewhere
in our awareness, in our consciousness. We discover that by becoming aware of our
consciousness, we become more conscious; our self-consciousness becomes „real”
and we „wake up.” In „waking up” we experience our identity, the identity of the
individual, with the universal. We discover that we can develop our capacity to
perceive this identity.
The term „identity” is used here to describe the qualitative sameness of the human
being and God, or the universal, or Endlessness in Gurdjieff’s preferred terminology.
In Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, Gurdjieff represents the creator of the universe as
Endlessness.The term „Endlessness” is used to express God, or the universal, in both the
sense of beingness (or, more accurately, beyond beingness), and also in the sense of the
place of the universe itself. The difference, if any, is only in scale. This is very much
different from the term „identification” as it is ordinarily used and which Gurdjieff
called „one of our most terrible foes.” „Identification” can be thought of as a false
identity. The subject of ordinary „identification” and how to work toward freedom from
it is taken up in Lesson 4. Becoming aware of our identity with the universal, and
standing in that identity, is the ultimate purpose of the Work. The freeing of ourselves
from everything with which we ordinarily identify and which keeps us from that
awareness plays a major part in the teaching brought by Gurdjieff and gives a
completely different meaning to the term „identity.”
In the context of becoming aware of our identity with the universal, it is meaningless to
say that any individual man or woman ever attains anything. Thus, the teaching is not
about attainment, it is about the discovery or awareness of who we are.
The spirit raises its human vehicle out of its own being and, through this vehicle,
achieves knowledge both of the qualities it has made manifest to itself and of the
undifferentiated and unmanifest being within which all qualities inhere. Our life is its
life; our consciousness is its consciousness; our desire to live, to experience, and to
know is its desire. 3
In this sense we come to learn that we are „spirit” or, again using Gurdjieff’s favored
term, we are „Endlessness.”
In the third series of the All and Everything trilogy, Life is real only then, when „I am,”
Gurdjieff discloses his great discovery that he is Endlessness (God).This agrees with
the same idea expressed in Hindu Advaitism, Islamic Sufism, and all other esoteric
Who am I?
philosophies that recognize this truth. For this reason Gurdjieff called his teaching
„esoteric Christianity.” In Gurdjieff’s words: „The difference between him and myself
must lie only in scale.” 4 This idea is also put forward in Beelzebub’s Tales to His
Grandson, where he tells us „the difference between each of them and our common
great megalocosmos is only in scale.” 5
Whether, as Gurdjieff tells us, there is a difference only in scale, meaning that we are
Endlessness varying in the scale of consciousness of our true nature, or whether,
since we are images of God, as Gurdjieff also tells us, there remains some separation
between each of us and Endlessness in full, is a question to which the answer will
become clearer to the student as he or she becomes more conscious. 6
e. What is the purpose of human life?
one of the new ideas that Gurdjieff’s teaching presents to us is the term
„Endlessness,” or „Absolute,” a term also favored by H.P. Blavatsky, founder of the
Theosophical Society. Like Blavatsky and others faced with the problem of
attempting to avoid preconceived notions by followers of the teaching, Gurdjieff wanted
a term to describe the ineffable presence behind the creation of the universe. For
this he used many descriptive names, most often containing the word „Endlessness,”
such as „Creator Endlessness,” „All-Embracing Uni-Being Autocrat Endlessness,”
and 69 other such expressions.
Several words in English have been used interchangeably by students of Gurdjieff’s
teaching and similar teachings to represent the same idea, although scholars have
attempted to describe subtle differences between these terms. These words, among
others, include „Absolute,” „All,” „Endlessness,” „Essence,” „God,” „Permanent ‘I’,”
„Self,” „Spirit,” „Unity,” „Universal,” and „Universal Mind.” The most common of these
words is „God.” It will not be used very often in this text because its historicity is such
that for most of us it conjures up images such as that of an old man in a robe and
long beard somewhere in the heavens.
The distinctive feature of all the images of God is that in some sense God is
separate and apart from each of us. This is the opposite of Gurdjieff’s teaching and
of all parallel teachings that maintain the identity of the individual with the universal.
Experiencing that identity has been called, by Gurdjieff, the fourth or objective state
of consciousness, or the real world, or enlightenment. For the purpose of this text we
will mainly use Gurdjieff’s preferred word, „Endlessness,” as a description of that
Externally, Endlessness is unknowable. Internally, the more we know ourselves the
more we know Endlessness because of that identity. Words cannot be used to describe
the perception of identity of the individual with the universal. It is the subject of
mystical experience that can be pointed to but is not otherwise describable. For the
purpose of this introduction, it is sufficient to say that Endlessness brought the
universe into existence, and that Endlessness is other than the old man with long
beard and flowing white robes whom we preconceive as the God-like figure of the
Judeo-Christian drama. We fail to understand the teaching that we are created in
God’s image, imagining instead a God „created” in our image. However, we can
become more fully conscious as Endlessness when we become more conscious of
ourselves, because Endlessness is our true nature. Blavatsky said there is only one
life, and we are that life. Biblically, „In him we live and move and have our being”
In Gurdjieff’s terminology, all the creatures made up of cells („microcosmoses” in
Gurdjieff’s writings) that we consider to be alive and mobile are called
„tetartocosmoses.” On planet earth, at the pinnacle of these creations, the most
developed tetartocosmos is the human being, whom Gurdjieff qualifies as a „threebrained”
or „three-centered” being, that is, a being who has evolved and has achieved
some development and control of his body, of his emotions, and of his thoughts. For
the purpose of discussion, Gurdjieff generally uses the term „tetartocosmos” to
represent a three-brained or human being. But what is a human being?
Here it is necessary to ask a question. It has been called Gurdjieff’s second
question, but it is a question that has been asked from time immemorial. At its
simplest, the question is: What in general is the purpose of human life? This must be
a burning question for each of us, otherwise we have no need of Gurdjieff’s or any
similar teaching. It would be presumptuous to think that we can come to a solution to
this question that has so puzzled humanity in this introductory text, or even to clearly
summarize Gurdjieff’s proposed answer. But we can ponder Gurdjieff’s suggestions.
Gurdjieff proposes as his answer that on earth, mankind is the only creature that can
grow a „soul,” which Endlessness can use to help with the purpose for which the
universe (called „megalocosmos” by Gurdjieff) was created. Thus, we human beings
have a purpose, and that purpose is to grow (or, as Gurdjieff prefers to call it, to
„coat”) within us a „higher-being body,” by us called soul. But then we can reasonably
ask, „Why is it important to grow a soul?
Gurdjieff goes into great detail in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, in further
developing the answer to this question. It is a question that has perplexed philosophers
and theologians through the ages. What is important for us to appreciate in our
attempt to understand the answer that Gurdjieff unfolds is that we are only relatively
individual creatures. We are really part of the greater being called Endlessness, and we
have the unique capability, as our consciousness increases, to stand more fully in our true nature as Endlessness. There is no qualitative difference between each human being
and Endlessness. The only difference is that of scale or relativity, and as we become
more conscious, the differences in scale become less.
In Gurdjieff’s view Endlessness, whether seen as already perfect or not, needs the
manifestation of the universe, and within that manifestation makes use on earth of
human development represented by each of us, to become more conscious of itself.
For this reason, Gurdjieff’s teaching causes us to transfer our identity from the
personality to the essential being that is beyond everyone and everything, to
Endlessness. Through its „three-brained” creatures, including the individualized men
and women on earth who have coated their own souls, Endlessness achieves the
purpose of the creation.That purpose, the purpose for which Endlessness has brought the
creation into manifestation, is expressed in the ancient commandment, „know
thyself.” In proposing his answer to this question, Gurdjieff goes further and suggests
that human beings are an experiment on planet earth to serve as vehicles by which
Endlessness can know or be conscious of itself. But how are we, as vehicles through
which Endlessness manifests, able to know ourselves?
There is an esoteric Hindu myth which tells that before the manifestation of the universe
there was only Brahman, another name for Endlessness. But Brahman was lonely.
So, Brahman through its will, divided itself into three parts, known in Hinduism as the
three principal forms of divinity, Brahma the creator or positive force, Shiva the
destroyer or negative force, and Vishnu the preserver or reconciling force. We shall
meet these three forces again in Gurdjieff’s explanation of the laws of world-creation
and world-maintenance. By the three parts of Brahman interacting with each other,
Brahman comes to „know itself.” This agrees with Gurdjieff’s view of the need of
Endlessness to know itself, to be conscious of itself, in infinite detail.
In theory, all tetartocosmoses can be vehicles by which Endlessness can know itself.
Gurdjieff remarked that the ants and the bees were failed experiments in this respect,
because they developed societies that were overwhelmingly mechanical and
therefore impossible of self-consciousness. Gurdjieff saw mankind as an experiment
in progress. To the extent that mankind remains mechanical, it will also be a failed
experiment. To the extent that a sufficient number of human beings can become
sufficiently self-conscious and therefore know the answer to the questions, who am
I and what is the purpose of human life, the experiment succeeds.
f. Transferring our identity from personality to essence
In order to experience the highest state of human consciousness, objective
consciousness, we must transfer our identity from the personality, which is what we
mistakenly believe that we are, to essence, that which we really are. Because of our
improper education or conditioning (Gurdjieff calls this our improper oskiano), we
mistakenly believe that we are the personality.The personality is that tissue of memories,
thoughts, emotions, and sensations that we have come mistakenly to call „I.” Yet we
know that none of this existed before birth and that all of this will dissolve at death or
shortly thereafter. In this sense the personality is impermanent and thus in Gurdjieff’s
view, unreal. As long as we believe in the overwhelming importance of the personality
we will never discover that which is real.
What then is real? Why, we are! We are real in our essential nature, that with which
we came into this life. Gurdjieff has called this „essence.” It is our essential nature,
and from the state of self-consciousness, it must be identified in order for us to
change our viewpoint.
Essence is what the human being brings into this lifetime. The personality, the „lower
bodies,” in its broadest terms includes the physical (and etheric) body, the emotional
(astral) body, and the body of ordinary thought.These are the products of food, education,
and experience in this lifetime. It is the personality or mask that we put on during this
life. It is really Endlessness in the guise of each one of us that puts on the mask we
The change of viewpoint in transferring our identity from personality to essence helps
us to understand that we consist of both essence and personality, but that in reality
we are essence. Gurdjieff called this change of viewpoint metanoia, a Greek word
which we can think of as a change in outlook. Metanoia takes place in us usually
through many years of watchfulness or what Gurdjieff calls self-observation, in which
we engage in exercises designed to help us to see that the personality is not really
who we are and to shake us loose from this misconception.
We must not belittle the importance of the personality. Its development through food,
education, and experience in this life is the stuff from which essence grows. So, our
life, including all our experiences, is of the utmost importance.Through experience, our
personality may be attracted to the esoteric influences with which life is seeded. When
these influences accumulate in us, they form what Gurdjieff has called a kind of
„magnetic center.” This attracts more such influences and in this sense the Work finds us.
g. The Fourth Way
Many students of Gurdjieff’s teaching regard him as an enlightened being who has undertaken a special mission designed to help contemporary people living mainly in
urban environments far removed from the tranquility of earlier times. For this reason
Gurdjieff called his mission „the Fourth Way,” a way in life. Gurdjieff said that throughout history there have been three traditional ways that can lead a man or woman to immortality. By this he meant the transferring of our identity from the personality which exists in time and space and is therefore transient, to essence, which transcends time and space and is therefore immortal.
These three traditional ways are:
1. The way of the fakir (the way of struggle with the physical body).
2. The way of the monk (the way of faith, the emotional way).
3. The way of the yogi (the way of knowledge, the way of mind).
Gurdjieff went on to say that historically, these three traditional ways were the only
possible methods for the development of the human being’s potential to be objectively
conscious. Objective consciousness brings the recognition of one’s immortality. It is
the immortality of essence that is meant. There is no immortality of the personality.
These traditional ways have always required the person to leave his or her
environment and enter into a secluded, monastic existence. But in the societies of
the 20th and 21st centuries these ways are less and less practiced and are difficult
to find. Gurdjieff brought a Fourth Way, a teaching that can be practiced in the midst
of life. The primary significance of the Fourth Way is that it is a way in life, whereas
the three traditional ways, even if they can be found, require a complete change in
one’s ordinary living circumstances from the outset. Through Gurdjieff’s teaching, we
can apply the methods he brings to the events of modern everyday life.
This teaching works on all three sides of our nature at once: on our physical body,
on our emotions, and on our intellect.This is another characteristic of the Fourth Way.
It requires that we become balanced individuals, using the events of life to attain that
balance. As we become more balanced, we can be self-conscious more easily
because we are less identified with our body, our thoughts, or our emotions. When we
no longer identify with these features of temporal life, we discover that we are free of all
fears and all desires. We then stand in essence, not in personality, and essence is
h. Beginning the quest
Having been introduced to the central theme of Gurdjieff’s teaching, and having
some idea now of what effort is involved in the pursuit of increased consciousness, we
must ask ourselves two questions: „Am I able and is it useful for me to pursue such a
quest?” and „If one begins this pursuit, can one withdraw from it at will at any time?”
Gurdjieff suggests we gain some perspective about what is ahead of us if we pursue
the quest. He also adds a warning to the seeker who sets out on this way:
Go out one clear starlit night to some open space and look up at the sky, at those
millions of worlds over your head. Remember that perhaps on each one of them
swarm billions of beings similar to you or perhaps superior to you in their
organization. Look at the Milky Way.The earth cannot even be called a grain of sand
in this infinity …
Before all these worlds ask yourself what are your aims and hopes, your intentions
and means of fulfilling them, the demands that may be made upon you and your
preparedness to meet them.
A long and difficult journey is before you; you are preparing for a strange and
unknown land …
Do not reckon on trying to come back. This experiment may cost you very dear. 8
Why does Gurdjieff say that it may cost us very dear? It is because when our eyes
are opened a bit through work with this teaching, we no longer sleep so soundly.
Once being awakened, even if only a little, it may no longer be possible to return to
complete sleep. We are warned by Gurdjieff that we are then in danger of being
„between two stools.” We have gotten off the stool of our waking sleep and we now
realize the necessity of becoming conscious of our essential nature as Endlessness.
But we have not yet reached the stool of being conscious of our essential nature.
Until we actually stand in the unity of our essential nature, our position is much less
happy than is that of the person who sleeps soundly and who is not reached by ideas
of this kind.