Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way
Friend’s House Lecture
J. G. Bennett – November 11, 1974
“I became convinced that one of the great problems facing mankind is this refusal to face disagreeable facts and the readiness to listen to anyone who will give them comforting assurances. But I presume that most of you who have come here wouldn’t have come to hear this lecture if you yourselves hadn’t come to much the same kind of conclusions as which I have just been putting before you, and you do see for yourselves that we are in front of a very strange situation that will inevitably lead to very great cataclysm in human affairs and that we have to prepare ourselves to live through this or at least to prepare our children and those who come after us something which can be different. And this is the fact that every sane serious thinking person must face.
What are we all to do in front of this? We have at the present time a society that is based on growth on the worship of size. Everything bigger is taken to be better. Progress means increase in size. Progress is synonymous with growth. We have to see, all of us, the absurdity of this, that this is a totally fictitious progress that at all times has been harmful but at the present time is going to be fatal. How can one, how can we do anything to prepare for a state of affairs in which this is reversed? In which we turn away from bigness for its own sake, in growth for its own sake, in the gospel of more to the gospel of enough, of being satisfied with the least with what is necessary. This requires a self discipline for which people are not prepared. From childhood, we are brought up to ask for more. To look upon it as a merit to get more if one can get it. If one is able to take, one takes. This is what we are taught. Not only by example, by the bad example of all adults, but even by teaching, even by precept. How are we who are so conditioned to live in terms of grasping for more to turn towards a way of life in which we are satisfied with less? It is clearly useless to talk about this, to tell people that we ought to give up this grasping for more. We can see that without any doubt that human beings are not capable of this – the deeply bred atavistic, maybe more, maybe it is in our very animal nature that we take if we can take. That we can only overcome this if we change ourselves and that we therefore have to face something else. Not only that the world is in difficulties, but that these difficulties cannot be overcome from the outside by anything that we can do or anyone can do so long as people themselves do not change. But the great majority of people will not change and do not wish to change. Can the few who wish to change make any contribution? Are they not such a small minority that they might was well retire and look after themselves? This is where we come back to this notion of the Fourth Way. The Fourth Way not only is a way of service, but is also a way of self-perfecting, of self-transformation. It is necessary for people who wish to serve to be able to sacrifice. Anyone can sacrifice in a splendid way where everyone’s eye is on them. . . The small daily sacrifice of doing without this or that, of allowing oneself to be imposed on, to allow others to get the better of us, to give up our pride and sometimes to even give up our self respect. That sort of sacrifice doesn’t come without very great inward change and one must know that change is necessary and be prepared to commit oneself to it. But only people who are committed to change can said to be people of the Way – whichever Way it is. Whether it is ways that turn away from the world that look for personal perfecting or whether it is this Fourth Way which is the way of service and work in the world. It is those people who are committed to changing themselves who can follow this and especially if we wish to serve we must know, as many of us have learned perhaps in the hard way, that we cannot do it so long as we remain as we are.”
“Man didn’t come into this world for nothing. Man is a very extraordinary achievement that required enormously long and difficult preparation. This achievement is not complete. It would be quite a considerable cosmic disaster if this experiment with man on this Earth should fail. And therefore, for this reason much is being done to prevent this experiment from failing. Not because man deserves to survive but because he is really needed. But also, you must understand however much we may criticize man, you have to realize I think how difficult it is to be a man. People don’t really grasp this. It is exceedingly hard to be in the true sense a true man, a human being. We are given powers, creative powers, that are necessary but they are terribly dangerous and man has also got a freedom that is necessary but terribly dangerous. It is not right to have a hostile or negative attitude towards the human race. The higher powers do not have it and we shouldn’t either. This . . .one should on the contrary have great compassion, great love for mankind. This struggling creature that is trying to fulfill an almost impossible destiny. We should not feel hostile. In spite of our arrogance, in spite of our selfishness, there is the struggle that is going on the world. Many many people try to make something better of their lives. Unless we feel great compassion for mankind we can’t do our work in this world. Any kind of hostility, any kind of rejection of our fellow men is against the high purpose and we shouldn’t serve mankind with a feeling of superiority that we are better because we happen to see something or because we have a higher ideal. It is not like that. We are not better. I am not better than any other man because I am a man and not something else and we are all in the same boat. That feeling that we are all in the same boat must be strong with us. Only in that way can we really have compassion.”
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