Illusions of the ‘fourth way’
In one way Gurdjieff was right: there is a possibility that ‘ancient knowledge’ of some kind has been lost to us.
But one should recommend caution in thinking, therefore, that a little scrounging in the Caucasus or the stomping grounds of sufis, is going to tell us what that is. In any case, we can refer once again to the essay series /gmancon where the outline of history indicated (and in other essays at that domain) puts the question in perspective.
Gurdjieff is filled with traditionalist spiritual illusions, despite his acumen in some respects, and this framework cannot resolve the question of the evolution of religion or the dynamics of civilizational emergence. That process is on a scale that is far greater than any spiritual tradition or school, and indeed transcends even the constructs of Christianity and Islam.
If we examine the ‘eonic effect‘ we see that there is every possibility of some ancient knowledge emerging at an early stage of civilization. The eonic framework shows us directly that the period of the onset of the Neolithic is the seminal era, however primitive still in many ways. Most of what later emerges in civilization has antecedents in that period. It is clear in the case of India that its spiritual tradition goes back to the Neolithic, or rather the epoch just prior to the onset of Dynastic Egypt and Sumer. The equivalent in a Middle Eastern context is a compelling idea, but it takes more than Gurdjieff’s fast and loose thinking to find out what that might be.
Thus the idea of the fourth way is already a very late derivative, probably suffering distortion. Gurdjieff’s way of handling such ideas was all too flawed and for all his posturing about ancient knowledge his treatment of these archaeological ‘artifacts’ was poor stuff, site tampering.
In any case, the local and temporal stream of schools and supposed ‘esoterics’ is a limited one, whatever its promoters say. Clearly Gurdjieff, as with so many New Agers, miscalculated the nature of history, and modernity.
In broadest strokes a study of the eonic effect shows how what we think of as ‘spiritual operations’ (in reality something more general) over time are far far beyond our easy ken. Consider the phenomenon of the Axial Age, and its truly stupendous effects over a period centuries in separate isolated zones of Eurasia, remorphing whole civilizations in its wake.
Compared with this the efforts of isolated gurus, occultists, and seekers is virtually a zero. Such people don’t really understand the nature of religious emergentism, which doesn’t operate via avatars, world saviors, or occult operators. It is way beyond such nonsense, really far beyond it, and doesn’t operate through people in time at all.
There is more to be said about the ‘fourth way’, but the way in which it is portrayed, as some operation of people founding schools and nonesuch suggests something far too limited to be the kind of ‘ultimate path’ it is misleadingly made out to be.
More on this some other time.