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Suggested Fourth Way Reading

[ Introduction- The Sawmi's Book | Background | Fourth Way Essentials
Beyond "The System" | Biographies |Other Books of Interest | Internet Fourth Way Resources ]

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The Sawmi's book, If You Meet the Buddha, Eat the Buddha is intended to be a contribution to the "Fourth Way" literature. The Fourth Way, also sometimes called "The Work" is a method of developing human potential which has a core of practitioners estimated at several thousand people, scattered around the world.

The core ideas of the Fourth Way were popularized in books written by G. I Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky (see FOURTH WAY ESSENTIALS below) about fifty years ago, based on material they had first presented more than eighty years ago. Although the Fourth Way itself is as relevant now as ever, the Sawmi's view is that the original presentation of Fourth Way ideas has become dated.

The Fourth Way is based on the ideas of Gurdjieff, who was born in what is now Armenia around the year 1877. He was a very colorful and charismatic character who was known for his intense personal presence or "quality of Being." His best known book is Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, which is written in a very obscure and difficult style. He died in Paris in 1949.

Gurdjieff's ideas were collected and systematized by Ouspensky, a Russian philosopher and journalist born in Moscow in 1878. Ouspensky's best known book is In Search of the Miraculous, and his version of the Fourth Way philosophy and cosmology is often referred to as "The System."

[ Introduction- The Sawmi's Book | Background | Fourth Way Essentials
Beyond "The System" | Biographies |Other Books of Interest ]


The Sawmi accepts the usefulness of Gurdjieff's method of developing human potential, The Work, or "Work on Oneself," but rejects parts of "The System" as dated, simplistic, and a premature attempt to finalize Fourth Way ideas. The System contains many valuable insights and should not be rejected completely, but at this time it has become a dogma and a hindrance to the further development of The Work.

There are a great number of books available on the Fourth Way. In the Sawmi's opinion, most are not really useful. If you wish to really get beyond the "theory" which is really pretty much completely set out in the three books listed in FOURTH WAY ESSENTIALS, you probably will need to choose one or more of the three options below.

OPTION 1 - BUY THE SAWMI'S BOOK! Read it, contact The Sawmi through his Incredible Lettuce Sutra Opportunity in Appendix B (Cost is a paltry $2.00, which is a lot less than you are likely to spend on Options 2 and 3 below), and go from there.

OPTION 2 - Contact a Gurdjieff Work Group, and begin to Work with others, hopefully under the guidance of an experienced teacher who knows what he or she is doing and who is not out to rip you off in any of numerous possible ways.

You need to be careful here. The Sawmi has some advice about this on pages 239-241 of his book, and just reading this and taking it to heart could make the book a very good investment indeed. It is impossible to overstate the potential danger in getting hooked up with the wrong people, not just in the Fourth Way, which may actually be better than most other spiritual techniques in this regard, but in general. Any group you get into should REQUIRE you to verify everything for yourself and FORBID you from becoming dependent on any leader.

There is currently a very good Gurdjieff Forum on the internet, and this can be a good way to contact experienced people who can give you the benefit of their experience. Links to the forum and several other Web sites are listed on the
Internet Fourth Way Resources page.

OPTION 3 - Do some more reading. There have been many books written on the Fourth Way, and some of them are worth reading. It is probably impossible to come up with a definitive catalog that is right for everyone, but the Sawmi's personal suggestions are listed below for whatever they are worth.

[ Introduction- The Sawmi's Book | Background | Fourth Way Essentials
Beyond "The System" | Biographies |Other Books of Interest ]

Recommended Reading
The three books below are "required reading" for anyone interested in the Fourth Way.

Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson - All and Everything: First Series, by G.I. Gurdjieff
  Gurdjieff's avowed purpose in writing this book was to break down all of our "century-rooted values and beliefs about everything existing in the world." Hopefully reading the book will do this without driving you completely nuts. ..

The action takes place on a spaceship which is carrying an aged Beelzebub (Gurdjieff?) and his Grandson along with various other beings. To pass the time, Beelzebub tells his Grandson stories about his experiences in our solar system, an undesirable place to which he was exiled long ago for Sins of his youth.

This has been published in two slightly different versions:

The origional version, first published by E.P. Dutton in 1950, which is 1238 difficult pages long.

The revised translation, published in 1992 by Viking Arkana, which is 1135 maybe slightly less difficult pages long.

At the present time the original Dutton version may be more useful because a good index is available that is keyed to this edition. The difficulty of the text, no matter which version one chooses, makes an index almost a necessity for
serious study.

Meetings with Remarkable Men - All and Everything: Second Series, By G.I. Gurdjieff
  Gurdjieff intended that Meetings with Remarkable Men should be read only after one has completed Beelzebub's Tales. It is much easier to read than Beelzebub, so for better or worse, this injunction is often not followed. Gurdjieff's purpose for this book was, after one's old concepts had been rooted out by reading Beelzebub's Tales, "to furnish the material required for a new creation and to prove its soundness and good quality."

The "plot" is the story of a search through the Middle East and Central Asia for answers to questions concerning the meaning of life.

The book is thought to be at least partly autobiographical, and it was the basis of a film with the same title released in the late 1970's and now available on video, although the film does not in any way replace reading the book.

In Search of the Miraculous, By P.D. Ouspensky
  "The author combines the logic of a mathematician with the vision of a mystic in his quest for solutions to the problems of Man and the Universe" according to the cover of one edition, and this is a pretty good description.

Unquestionably a masterpiece of Western spiritual/mystical literature. Ouspensky gives definite, rational answers to metaphysical questions that were traditionally answered by admonitions to trust in God, or were sidestepped with words like "the unknowable", "the ineffable", etc. This set of answers has become known in The Work as "The System".

More people have been introduced to The Work through In Search than by any other means. It had an electrifying effect on the Sawmi who can still remember, in nearly photographic detail, his first contact with the book more than thirty years ago. At last there seemed to be ANSWERS, that made at least some sense. Unfortunately, the book may not have the same impact on today's readers, since, as we all know, a lot has changed in the almost fifty years since it was first published.

Even if, like the Sawmi, you feel that some of what is contained in the above books is not as useful for the younger generation as it could be, you cannot hope to get very far with the Fourth Way unless you are familiar with them.

It should be mentioned that Gurdjieff's "Third Series" Life Is Real Only Then, When "I AM" has also now been published. Only "incomplete fragments" of this work, which was not intended by Gurdjieff to be made available to the public, now exist. It does not contain any "mysterious esoteric secrets" that are accessable to anyone who has not been in The Work for a long time. However for those who have come to "know" Gurdjieff through their own Work and through association with his ideas, some of the material in this book is emotionally very moving, and could almost be said to have a quality of sacredness.

Another book by Gurdjieff The Herald of Coming Good, is well worth reading in the Sawmi's opinion. Gurdjieff's announcement of his completion of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson. This was Gurdjieff's first published work, which was, as the title suggests, to announce the arrival of his further works. Published in Paris in 1933, it was quickly withdrawn and Gurdjieff tried to "recall" all copies that had been sold. Be this as it may, it is very interesting, although, as Gurdjieff quickly saw, it can cause a lot of misunderstanding in those not already familiar with his ideas.

[ Introduction- The Sawmi's Book | Background |Fourth Way Essentials
Beyond "The System" | Biographies |Other Books of Interest ]

The problem with the three "canonical" Fourth Way texts above is that they were all first published almost fifty years ago, and written considerably before that. In the mean time, as we all know, there have been tremendous advances in our scientific understanding of our physical bodies and brains, and also physics has begun to provide definite answers to a few of the questions that had heretofore been considered religious or mystical.

In some cases these new answers have superseded "The System", although this by no means implies that The System should be thrown out entirely. There definitely is "a baby in the bathwater" that should be preserved. However, the Sawmi contends that The System has gradually become dated and less relevant to the young people of today, who have grown up entirely in the space age and with the computer age. The Sawmi believes that a bridge between The System and the findings of modern science can be found in the book by John Lilly described below.

The Center of the Cyclone, By John C. Lilly, M.D.
  John Lilly is, at first look, an unlikely person to turn to as a transmitter and interpreter of an approach to spiritual experience as serious and highly structured as the Fourth Way. He is best known as a figure from the "psychedelic subculture" of the 1960's and early 1970's, second only to Timothy Leary in noteriety. Most people who have heard about him associate him with either his attempts to communicate with dolphins or the "isolation tank" which he invented. His work with the isolation tank is the basis of the highly fictionalized account in the film "Altered States" which can still be found in many video stores. There is no question that he used mind altering drugs, and that in later life some of his thinking became what can only be called delusional.

However, we must remember that Gurdjieff is quoted as saying that he "would ride on the Devil's back if it would help him reach his aim," and it is in this spirit the Sawmi recommends the book above. John Lilly was recognized as having a brilliant mind in his early years. He was born in 1915 to a wealthy family. In 1938 he received his Bachelor of Science degree from Caltech, where he rubbed shoulders with a very distinguished group of teachers and scientists. He then went on to receive his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942.

Although his use of mind altering drugs is evident in The Center of the Cyclone, at this stage of his life (early 1970's) his drug use was still relatively controlled. The Sawmi believes that he used his considerable mental ability, along with his social standing (i.e. money) which gave him access to essentially all of the most significant modern metaphysical thinkers of the time, to develop and present a very clear, if simplified, presentation of one of the central concepts of the Fourth Way. This has to do with the "Gurdjieff Vibration Levels", also called the "Table of Hydrogens" in The System.

The ability to experience and understand these vibration levels (without drugs) is viewed by The Sawmi as a major goal of The Work and an essential step on the road to Liberation and Enlightenment. The description of these vibration levels in Chapters 11 through 18 of The Center of the Cyclone is the clearest and most accessible to present day Western people that is known to The Sawmi.

  Continuous Satori-Samadhi and Cultural Implications...Chile Experience
  Two audio tapes of lectures by John Lilly available from Big Sur Tapes, (800-688-5512).

These tapes are an excellent aid to understanding the material in The Center of the Cyclone, and contain some additional examples and material that makes his ideas about the Gurdjieff vibration levels even clearer.

[ Introduction- The Sawmi's Book | Background | Fourth Way Essentials
Beyond "The System" | Biographies |Other Books of Interest ]

Struggle of the Magicians: Why Uspenskii Left Gurdjieff, by William Patrick Patterson
  Colin Wilson (see The Strange Life of P.D. Ouspensky below) says "Yes, what an excellent book - full of things I didn't know, A real contribution to our understanding of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky." The Sawmi agrees. Puts the lives of the two founders of The Fourth Way in perspective in a way none of the other books known to The Sawmi does. You probably have to be familiar with some of the other material below to really appreciate this, but for those seriously interested in the past and present development of The Work, this book is really valuable.

Gurdjieff: the anatomy of a myth, by James Moore
Probably the best Gurdjieff biography.

The Harmonious Circle, by James Webb
  "The lives and Work of G.I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky and their followers." Not as focused as Moore's book. Contains some questionable theories. Talks about the development of the Work after Gurdjieff's death.

The Strange Life of P.D. Ouspensky, by Colin Wilson
  The only book I can think of offhand that focuses specifically on Ouspensky, although there must be more. Presents Gurdjieff as a sort of "bad influence" on Ouspensky. Interesting, but I'd take it with a grain of salt.

[ Introduction- The Sawmi's Book | Background | Fourth Way Essentials
Beyond "The System" | Biographies |Other Books of Interest ]

The books below may be helpful, depending on what you are interested in. There is a "maze" of literature available on the Fourth Way. Dozens, if not hundreds of books are out there, and most contain at least one small piece of worthwhile information. However, in many cases that one piece is all that is there, and one may read several hundred pages to find this out. Even worse, but not uncommonly, the one piece of information that one obtains is that the author doesn't know what he is talking about, or has some bizarre agenda, and should be avoided. The Sawmi feels that the books below contain enough substance to make reading them worthwhile if one is interested.

Views From the Real World: Early Talks of Gurdjieff As Recollected by His Pupils, No author given. Forward by Jeanne de Salzmann.
  Just what the title says. Records compiled from Gurdjieff's pupils of writings, talks, and sayings of Gurdjieff between the years of 1914 and 1924. Gives a sense of how Gurdjieff taught and what he talked about at this time.

  Mount Analog, Rene Daumal

A Night of Serious Drinking, Rene Daumal
  Not really Fourth Way books, but readable literature containing Work ideas written by an artist who was familiar with The Work and moved in Work circles in Paris in the early 1930's. A welcome break from trudging through the "serious" Fourth Way literature.

  Gurdjieff, an annotated bibliography, by J. Walter Driscoll and The Gurdjieff Foundation of California
  A guide to just about everything written about Gurdjieff or the Fourth Way. Supposedly about to come out in a revised, updated edition at the time of this writing. Contains the very useful Footnote to the Gurdjieff Literature, by Michel de Salzmann as a sort of preface. This is a no-nonsense categorization of the Fourth Way literature, including "Voluntary and Involuntary Mystifications", unfortunately a very large category, with selected examples.

  Guide and Index to G.I. Gurdjieff's "All and Everything Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson," The Society for Traditional Studies, Toronto
  You'll need to find a copy somewhere if you plan to really get into the study of Beelzebub's Tales.

  An Index to In Search of the Miraculous, by A.G.E. Blake
  Ouspensky has a good index in "In Search..." but this includes further information that might be useful to serious students of Ouspensky.

  Talks by Madame Ouspensky, by Robert S. de Ropp
  A very thin book, Fifteen small, large print pages, but worth checking out. Madame seems to have had an ability to distill ideas down to a superconcentrated, bile-like essence. At first it doesn't usually make much of an impression, but it grows over the years if you keep it around. A very remarkable woman, and I'm glad I didn't have to live with her.

The Gurdjieff Work, by Kathleen Riordan Speeth
  Perhaps justly criticised as being a bit "lightweight" this is still a useful brief overview of Gurdjieff's ideas in the context of the "Human Potential" movement of the time when it was published. Has an interesting description of the various "factions" that The Work had broken into at the time of publication (1976). Dr Speeth's parents were students of Gurdjieff so she can accurately claim to have been influenced by him from before birth.

[ Introduction- The Sawmi's Book | Background | Fourth Way Essentials
Beyond "The System" | Biographies |Other Books of Interest ]

[Buy the Sawmi's Book | Back to Enneagram]

© Starving Sawmi Press
, September 1, 1997