(Frequently Asked Questions)

This FAQ is dedicated to those who seek more understanding of themselves and others, and who wish to awaken from the narrow and twisted dream called "ordinary consciousness".

What is the 4th Way?

The 4th Way is a theory of psychology and a methodology for achieving higher states of consciousness, based mainly on the writings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

Why the 4th Way?

Traditionally, seekers of higher consciousness have used one of three approaches:

It has been claimed that these ways are slow, unreliable, and lead to imbalance, producing "stupid saints" (who can do anything, but don't know what to do) or "weak yogis" (who know what to do, but can't do anything).

The 4th Way (sometimes called "the way of the sly man"), emphasizes more direct practices (such as "self-remembering" and "self-observation"), and balanced development of the physical, emotional, and intellectual capacities.

The 4th Way is also the best suited for modern life; unlike the others, you do not have to renounce everything. You may begin to follow the 4th Way immediately under your present conditions.

Basic Ideas

A person in "normal" consciousness is not truly awake. The vast majority of the time we are in one of several less-conscious states:

These states actually cause us to forget that we exist. The illusion of consciousness is maintained by a curious trick of the mind: When we examine our consciousness (as when protesting, "This is nonsense -- Of course I'm conscious!"), we actually DO become conscious for a moment. Unexpected events and sensations also trigger momentary consciousness.

We are unaware that our mind is actually divided into multiple entities, capable of acting independently. (Sort of like Sybil.) Of course, in most people, these entities are so well integrated that we rarely notice when control shifts from one to another.

The illusion of a single mind is further enhanced by the fact that all the entities are in the same body and have the same name; each one considers itself to be "I". The "I's" are most noticeable when they are in conflict with each other. We then have "mixed feelings": coexisting contrary attitudes.

There are a number of consequences of multiple "I's":

The mind is also (normally) divided into four centers with different functions:

There are two other centers that only show up in higher states of consciousness:

In "normal" consciousness, we sometimes let "I's" from one center inappropriately take over functions that should be performed by "I's" from another center. Some examples:

4th Way Practices

The fundamental exercises of the 4th Way are "self-remembering" and "self-observation". Self-remembering is simply being aware you exist, and being aware of the impressions coming through your senses. Doing this for a moment is easy. Trying to do this for a longer period of time is hard, and reveals the insidious workings of imagination, identification, considering, and multiple "I's".

As hard as it is, self-remembering must be done regularly to make progress in the 4th Way. It is also necessary to develop the ability to self-remember in situations when it is not "convenient". You will find at first that the effort of self-remembering makes it difficult to accomplish other activities at the same time. Like anything else, it gets easier with practice.

Self-observation involves "observing" your thoughts and feelings, and determining which center each originates from. It is particularly important to determine the thoughts and feelings that come from your emotional center. Control of emotions is necessary for progress in the 4th Way.

Eliminating the expression of negative emotions (such as anger) is another important practice. Negative emotions drain energy that can be used for self-remembering. (Ouspensky observed that we can learn to enjoy almost any negative emotion. It is valuable to recognize when this is happening in ourselves).

If you've read this far, a number of your "I's" are probably interested in 4th Way ideas. These "I's" are called the "magnetic center", and can be used to facilitate your development in the 4th Way. The magnetic center can facilitate discrimination and understanding, and can influence other "I's" that would otherwise be obstacles to development.

Development of the magnetic center produces the "deputy steward", which can control and coordinate other "I's", giving a degree of control over your consciousness. Finally, development of the deputy steward results in the growth of the permanent "I".


Our knowledge of the 4th Way comes mainly from the writings of Gurdjieff, who brought the system from the East to the West, and P.D. Ouspensky, one of Gurdjieff's students, who studied, taught, and wrote about it approximately 1914-1947. The 4th Way is said to be several centuries old.

There are currently a number of 4th Way schools in existence. Some of them, however, are cults: Unethical behavior and exploitation of students have been reported here by several people. Others have praised these same schools. Conclusion: a 4th Way school can be helpful (some say it is essential to have a school to make progress), AND be careful!


Other books:

There is an excellent survey of all the significant Gurdjieff literature, in the introduction to the book, "Bibliography of the Gurdjieff Literature", edited by Walter Driscoll. The writer establishes a framework for a serious evaluation of the literature, and places all the primary, secondary, and tertiary works within this framework. The bibliography itself may be out of print, but it can probably be obtained easily enough at an esoteric bookstore or major library. (From Richard Hodges)

Texts which might provide an introduction to Gurdjieff's teaching are:

But when all is said and done, it is best to return to "All and Everything - Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" - attempting to make practical sense of Gurdjieff's teaching without it would not be unlike attempting to understand Christ without the Gospels. (From Eddin)

It has been claimed that Ouspensky's writings are generally easier to understand than Gurdjieff's.


This newsgroup is intended to provide a forum for people to share insights and knowledge of the 4th Way, and higher states of consciousness in general.

This FAQ

This is a draft version of the 4th Way FAQ, so may contain some errors. If you notice any inaccuracies or omissions in this FAQ, or have any other feedback, I would appreciate hearing from you! It would be particularly helpful if any newcomers to the 4th Way would indicate any sections of this FAQ they found unclear.

Thanks to Stella Wirk for many insightful suggestions.

The sections on Gurdjieff references are from Richard Hodges and Eddin.

Revised and edited by: Alan Balkany (

Text converted to HTML by Rex Jackson.

Retrieved from: