The Reality of Being:
The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff
Jeanne De Salzmann
Based on notebooks kept by G. I. Gurdjieff 's closest follower, this book offers new insight on his spiritual teaching—a way of gnosis or "knowledge of being" passed on from remote antiquity. It is a complete and uniquely authoritative guide to the great teacher's ideas and to his methods for liberating ourselves from the state of waking sleep in which most of us live our lives.
Gurdjieff respected traditional religious practices, which he regarded as falling into three general categories or ways: the Way of the Fakir, related to mastery of the physical body; the Way of the Monk, based on faith and feeling; and the Way of the Yogi, which focuses on development of the mind.
He presented his teaching as a Fourth Way which integrated these three aspects into a single path of self-knowledge. Progress in the Fourth Way comes through conscious effort toward a quality of thinking and feeling that brings a new capacity to see clearly and to love.
A Nostalgia for Being
Man remains a mystery to himself. He has a nostalgia for Being, a longing for duration, for permanence, for absoluteness—a longing to be. Yet everything that constitutes his life is temporary, ephemeral, limited. He aspires to another order, another life, a world that is beyond him. He senses that he is meant to participate in it.
He searches for an idea, an inspiration, that could move him in this direction. It arises as a question: "Who am I—who am I in this world?" If this question becomes sufficiently alive, it could direct the course of his life. He cannot answer. He has nothing with which to answer—no knowledge of himself to face this question, no knowledge of his own. But he feels he must welcome it. He asks himself what he is. This is the first step on the way. He wants to open his eyes. He wants to wake up, to awaken.
I seek what I am, to be what I am. I have a habit of thinking of “body,” on the one hand, and of “spirit or energy” on the other. But nothing exists separately. There is a unity of life. I wish to live it, and I seek it through a movement of return toward myself. I say there is an outer life and an inner life. I say this because I feel myself as distinct, as existing apart from life. There is, however, only one great life. I cannot feel separate from it, outside it, and at the same time know it. I must feel myself a part of this life. But it is not enough to desire this or to seek an intense sensation of it. I can enter into the experience only if I have first come to unity in myself, only if I have come to be a whole.
There are two movements in me: a movement of energy from above which, if I am free enough to listen to it, penetrates and acts through me; and another movement, dispersed and without order, which animates my body, my thought and my feeling. The two are very different, and I cannot bring them into accord. Something is missing. My attention is unable to follow them at the same time. Sometimes it settles on the void, the infinite, on emptiness; sometimes on the form. When the attention settles on emptiness, it is the form that dissolves. When the attention is on the form, the sense of the void disappears. It is necessary to pay the price.
Can I be free enough to receive what is unknown, behind all my avid movements toward the outside? This unknown, which is behind and beyond, cannot be perceived by my senses. I am able to see a form, but I cannot know through my senses the true nature of what it is. My thinking knows forms but cannot grasp the reality behind them, the reality of what I am, which appears just before and after each thought or feeling. What we experience—sounds, forms, colors, thoughts—cannot exist without a background. But this background cannot be perceived by my senses. It remains unseen, not experienced. The forms and the reality are parts of a single whole, but they exist in different dimensions. The real is not affected by the material of my thinking and cannot absorb it. Reality is on another level. Yet the material of my thought absorbs the real and constructs illusions based on forms. The form acts as a veil hiding the reality. When the reality of myself is not felt, I cannot help but believe in this illusion and call it “I.” Nevertheless, the illusion is only a mirage which dissolves the moment silence is established.
I have to see that there is a space between thoughts, a void that is reality, and I need to remain as long as possible in this space. Then another kind of thinking appears, clear and intelligent, a thought of another level, another dimension. I see that the usual thought, which is limited and measureable, can never understand that which is beyond measure. With my usual vision I see the physical aspect of the world. With this other vision I see another dimension in which the immeasurable has its own movement. If my centers are absolutely still, without any movement, the energy can pass through them. I see what I did not see before. I see what is. In this seeing there is a light, a light that is not ordinary. Things appear and disappear in the void but are illuminated, and I am no longer so taken by them. In this seeing I can understand my true nature and the true nature of things around me.
It is not a matter of fighting indifference or lethargy or anger. The real problem is vision—to see. But this seeing is only possible if we return to the source, to the reality in us. We need another quality of seeing, a look that penetrates and goes immediately to the root of myself. If we look at ourselves from outside, we cannot penetrate and go deeper because we see only the body, the form of the seed, its materiality. Reality is here, only I have never put my attention on it. I live with my back turned to myself.