Confusions of the ‘fourth way’
An older post From Darwiniana
James comments on ‘Toward a true modern spirituality’.
James, thanks for reviving this thread. I will first do some more spiel on the original post, then bring in your issue of ‘Boomer Buddhism’ in another post.
My original remarks, which brought in the idea of the ‘fourth way’, were jolted by Jayen’s comment, rushing in with his ‘propaganda’. But on reflection, it is not surprising, and almost providentially revealing, of what happens when you pick up someone’s brand name and try to generalize from that. (In retrospect, Jayen was a ‘useful idiot’ to have around and I feel bad to have scared him off). The idea of the fourth way is completely general, but was reified by Gurdjieff/Ouspensky into something very specific, a suspicious concoction of Gurdjieff’s always misleading statements. The problem here is that we have no evidence, prior to Gurdjieff/Ouspensky of anything like a ‘fourth way school’, the speculative fantasies of Gurdjieffians notwithstanding (my remark that early Christianity shows a ‘fourth way’ has a different interpretation, i.e. the preoccupation of Christians with the ’sinful will’). Like so much else with Gurdjieff, what he says may simply be made up as he went along. His original intuition, before he embroided it, may have had some truth to it.
My idea was to rescue the idea for something to help us figure through the seeming paradox that modernity doesn’t show any clear spiritual paths. Since the ‘fumbled football’ of the idea of the fourth way will be claimed by everyone on the field, it might be better to toss in the towel, and change terminology, mindful however that the basic abstraction behind the ‘fourth way’, if you can forget Ouspensky, expresses something significant, i.e. the ‘will’ as the integrating idea behind a ‘whole man’ path. I have consistently criticized Gurdjieff but he knew a thing or two, and was basically saying that man can’t so easily integrate body, emotion, and mind in a unified form of action.
That’s hard, he said, but should you ever succeed something remarkable happens, you see a different, maybe the real, homo sapiens.
However, none of this is so different from what we see in, say, Buddhism. Who is this ‘man of will’ and what would be his place in history? Boddhisattwas would be lurking in bushes, saying to themselves, ‘this guy’s a holdout, he is going in samsaric circles, this ‘will’ is simply a source of demonic illusions. Let’s finish him off with Basic Buddhism, the ‘path negating the will’. It’s obvious from Schopenhauer, also, not just Buddhists, that when you come on this ‘will’ you might renounce it.
So this ‘path of will’ is ambiguous, and would require, to be worthwhile, the ‘mastery of time’ beyond bodies (??? so what are we talking about). We have no evidence of such a thing, although here Gurdjieff had some hallucinations in that direction, always distorted by his reactionary confusions. Gurdjieff claimed to ‘have a soul’ with a ‘permanent aim’ (a really dangerous ‘will phantom’). Did he?
Meanwhile those boddhisattwas are lurking in the bushes. ‘This guy’s a holdout, let’s finish him off).
I can’t resolve all these issues, but a path of the will requires understanding for what reason a being in time would continue in time, when the most basic Indic traditions are world-renouncing. In fact, that merely tells us we are missing something. Behind the great traditions of India there exists something deeper even than that, uh oh, here we go again, the fourth way!
My point: this quagmire of ideas is quite unresolved, and certainly not resolved by the carriers of the ‘fourth way reified concepts’, Gurdjieff/Ouspensky.
There is a better way to do this, and to neutralize the idea by simply taking the plain passage of human time as the ‘fourth way’, the hardest and most dangerous of all ways, because it leaves man to his existential situation against the passage of millennia, taking his chances with nature’s ‘baby shoes freebie’, a temporary ‘free gift of a simple soul’, wagered against its wearing out sooner or later in the grinding motions of civilization. This was the original significance, now lost, of the ’sermans against falling into hell’, of the primordial ‘christians before the christians’, on the fourth way.
The ‘fourth way’, in the passage of time, is dangerous, should you be so wretched as to perish and fall away from that time.
So if you actually came upon a world renouncing sangha of ‘Buddhists’ stepping beyond this path of the passage of time, you might be well advised to take, forswearing foolish ventures called the ‘fourth way’, and the pirates like Gurdjieff on this Barbary coast.
Does the simple passage of time generate a spiritual path? The question is misleadingly difficult, yet obvious, and the answer is an emphatic YES! Looking at history in the large we see that evolving man entering in the Neolithic, then into civilization went through all the great religions as these appeared in concert, in the passage of time (i.e. without any human planning), and gave to man a ‘fourth way’, that is, all the great religions and other adjunct spiritual schools and traditions, taken in aggregate as the ‘fourth way’, in the gifts of time, in the passage of time. We fail to sense this because it is so obvious, on the one hand, and so cluttered with spiritual myths, on the other, and the result is that the ‘fourth way’ is right under our noses, and yet we miss it in the distractions of our form of existence. Thus the emphasis on world withdrawal, or explicit meditation instead of the implicit meditation of ‘being in time’, or whatever, the whole nine yards. Frankly I wouldn’t trust the pure passage of time to save me, but then that’s all, finally, us ordinary Joes have, so to be realistic, beyond the fake promises of redemption from exhibitionist saviors, will to power types, and the general riffraff of gurus, our last chance is the ‘being in time’ in the river that may reach the ocean, or not.
This hardly resolves the question, but such ruminations as scratchpad explorations, are useful, and a reminder that the ‘fourth way’, minus the hijacked version that comes down to us, is a general concept of real possible meaning.
In the nonce, greater nature, in the swell of modernity, shows the hints on its stupendous scale, of the greater fourth way emerging in the passage of time, and the birth of modern freedoms is a omen of this latency of human evolution.