The Fourth Way refers to a concept used by G.I. Gurdjieff to describe an approach to self-development learned over years of travel in the East that combined what he saw as three established traditional “ways,” or “schools” into a fourth way. 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.”
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.
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 emphasized 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.
The Fourth Way teaches people how to increase and focus their attention and energy in various ways, and to minimize daydreaming and absent-mindedness. 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.