Many people ask themselves ‘What is the teaching of ‘The Fourth Way’ about?’ On encountering the system it appears to be an ordinary teaching of psychology. Although ‘the Fourth Way’ deals with the fundamental questions of what it is to be human, the qualification ‘psychology’ wouldn’t do it any justice.
What is psychology?
Traditionally speaking, psychology has never existed under its own name. Psychology existed under the name of philosophy. The 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote many works on morality and how man can overcome his own limitations. He considered himself more a psychologist than a philosopher. In ancient times psychology existed in Yoga and Sufi teachings. Art. Poetry, Drama, Sculpture, Dancing and even Architecture, were all means for transmitting psychological knowledge. For instance, the Gothic Cathedrals were in their chief meaning works on psychology.
On the other hand, psychology is the oldest of sciences and in its most essential forms a forgotten science. Psychology originated from ancient Greek mythology and was also found in forms of symbolical teachings, sometimes connected with religion, astrology, alchemy, magic, occultism and theosophy.
The main difference between psychology and the teachings of ‘the Fourth Way’ is that ordinary psychology ‘Studies man as they find him, or such as they suppose or imagine him to be’ The system doesn’t study man from the point of view of what he is, but from the point of view of what he may become. From the point of view of his possible evolution.
“When we understand the importance of the study of man from the point of view of his possible evolution, we shall understand that the first answer to the question: What is psychology?—should be that psychology is the study of the principles, laws and facts of man’s possible evolution”
That leaves us yet with an even bigger question;
What is evolution?
Of course, everybody is well aware of Darwin’s theory of evolution, but at the time Ouspensky lived that theory was nothing more than just a theory. Science has progressed considerably ever since and the evidence for evolution as being the result of a combination of natural selection and random mutation is by chance overwhelming.
That being said, the system of ‘the Fourth Way’ has yet another take on the evolution of man. The system teaches us that man can not evolve mechanically as he is from birth. The fundamental idea is that man as we know him, is not a complete being. Nature develops him only up to a certain point and then leaves him, either to develop further, by his own efforts or to live and die such as he was born. Evolution of man is a function of the possibility of the evolution of his consciousness.
In a behavioural sense, the system regards man ‘as he is’ a stimulus-response-machine, not capable of choosing his actions freely. The main obstacle being however that man does not see himself this way. Man lives under the illusion that he does posses a free will and that he can choose the way he acts, thinks and feels. But man can not do. Everything that man thinks he does, really only happens. It happens exactly as ‘it rains,’ or ‘it thaws.’
So before man can acquiring any new faculties or powers he has to acknowledge, by virtue of his own observations, that he is indeed a machine and does not posses any of these qualities. As long as man ascribes to himself the possibility of doing and free will, he will put no effort in acquiring those qualities and will remain as he is.
‘The Fourth Way’ teaches us that man is a machine but that he is a very special kind of machine. Man is a machine that can become aware of him being a machine. That is his only way out of the trap. The main problem is that man does not know himself and does not know he is a machine. Man is a very complicated machine but he does not regard himself as such.
“Man has invented many machines, and he knows that a complicated machine needs sometimes years of careful study before one can use it or control it. But he does not apply this knowledge to himself, although he himself is a much more complicated machine than any machine he has invented”