The Fourth Way provides a path to wisdom, enlightenment and happiness for ‘householders’, ordinary people living in the world today. It is also known as ‘the Way of Understanding’. This householder’s way has existed since time immemorial.
Ouspensky was convinced that there was a system of knowledge and practice hidden in secret schools which had the potential to lead its followers to self-realisation, or enlightenment. He travelled to India in search of these schools, but did not find what he was looking for. He later met G.I. Gurdjieff who claimed to have found some secret schools and been taught their knowledge and practices. Gurdjieff conceived the title ‘Fourth Way’, for the fragmentary assemblage of previously unknown teachings that he brought to the West in the early 20th century – but he never claimed to have invented the Way itself. Ouspensky recognised that what Gurdjieff had found was incomplete. When he documented what he had learned from Gurdjieff, he titled the book ‘Fragments of an Unknown Teaching’. So where did these ‘fragments’ come from?
Although Ouspensky later developed the ideas and practices further himself, he realised there was still something missing. Before he died, he directed Dr Francis Roles to work with other students to reconstruct the system based on their own experience and understanding. He also gave them the task of finding the source of the teaching. He saw the main gap as being the lack of a simple method of self-remembering and said that this method would probably be found in India.
Travel was slow and difficult in those days, and Dr Francis Roles focused his search on spiritual teachers who visited London. He was particularly interested in any who came from India. In 1960 he encountered Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who taught him a method of mantra meditation. Dr Roles was subsequently introduced to the head of the Shankaracharya tradition of Advaita in Northern India, the Shankaracharya Shantanand Saraswati. Conversations initially with the Maharishi and later with the Shankaracharya, convinced him that mantra meditation was the origin of the method of self-remembering that Ouspensky had asked him to find. He became a disciple of the Shankaracharya who led him along a progressive path of purification of the body-mind towards an understanding of Advaita (non-duality) and self-realisation. For 20 years, Dr Roles received help and guidance from the Shankaracharya.
But was the Shankaracharya’s teaching the one and only source of Ouspensky’s Fourth Way system? Had Dr Roles adopted this teaching because he recognised the Shankaracharya as being someone who always remembered himself? It is clear that he felt a deep connection with the Shankaracharya and saw intuitively that he was a fully-realised teacher with the ability to lead others to self-realisation. And that, of course, was the primary aim of Ouspensky’s System.
However, there is no reason to suppose that there was just one single source for all the fragments in the System. In fact, it was almost certainly put together by Gurdjieff from ideas and methods that he gathered from several different sources during his travels in India, Tibet, Central Asia, Egypt, Iran and his native Russia. So it’s not surprising that there are many aspects of the System that are not covered by the Shankaracharya’s teaching.
Subsequent pages discuss the main ‘fragments’ of the System and their likely origins, and provide a new interpretation of their role and application in the Fourth Way path to self-realisation followed by today’s seekers of truth and happiness. These pages are being developed and will be added over the next year. After self-remembering and identification, further planned topics include: attention, effort, sleep and waking, negative emotion, universal laws, space and time, the concept of ‘others’, teaching approach.