A Western Way

human mellows01-2From: On the Fourth Way

"Take the understanding of the East, and the knowledge of the West – and then seek."  – G. I. Gurdjieff
"Evidently, he came into contact with a school that was not Eastern, and from this school he got his knowledge."  – P. D. Ouspensky

While the ways of the East are not closed to Westerners, and the ways of the West are not closed to Easterners, there is much more difficulty than may be commonly realized in adopting another way.

As has been pointed out, for example, a Westerner studying an Eastern teaching like Buddhism often comes across the idea of "nothingness" as a desired state. This, of course, is ridiculous East and West. This word, so dutifully translated, really means "no-thing-ness". More properly translated with a Western term such as "unity". Also, the idea in the East of, as it is translated "detachment", is better approached fresh, and is the fourth way's action of "separation", or "non-identification".

A new metaphysics

But there is an even more fundamental difference between what I am here going to call the old Eastern ways and the new Western way. This is due to the underlying culture in which ways are formed, which they shape and and in which they are shaped in organic interaction. We westerners can probably not even imagine the culture of, say, Japan one thousand years ago, read as many books as we may. We could have some chance of doing so only by being immersed in the culture of Japan today, preferably from early childhood. Because what is assumed is not taught. It may not even be recognized clearly enough to be seen as requiring teaching.

It would be equally difficult for one raised in a traditional Eastern culture to comprehend the fourth way in its stress on individual understanding as opposed to tradition and trust. A rabelaisen Gurdjieff telling tall tales of where the teaching comes from does not correspond well to the keepers of tradition in ancient monasteries. And this is not accidental — it is necessary and correct.

I intend for this essay to be mainly about the new Western way which is the fourth way, but I hope to use examples from Eastern teachings to help clarify differences and commonalities between the different approaches. In general, by Eastern ways, I am referring to the great and ancient traditions of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and that rainbow of approaches we call Hinduism. To some extent I could include older traditions of the West and near East as well, such as orthodox and catholic Christianity, Islam and Judaism, as being what I am here referring to as "Eastern". The fundamental distinction being science, but a new and higher science that includes and enhances modern science; that is, a new metaphysics.

The fourth way is both psychological and cosmological. It is also both ancient and modern. (It is comprehensive.) The psychological teaching of the fourth way is ancient, in that knowledge of human psychology was well established before the arrival of modern science and in fact, as Ouspensky points out, psychological knowledge may have never been as poor as it is in modern times. Psychological knowledge, perforce, has been hidden. The cosmological teachings of the fourth way begin in ancient science which in itself was largely based on psychological knowledge. While it was necessarily limited to investigating the external world without the tools of modern science, it had no limitation in investigating the inner world, and therefore had the possibility of harmoniously relating a profound knowledge of human psychology in synthesis with cosmological studies, not in antithesis.

So part of our task, in addition to understanding our personal psychology (and, increasingly, human psychology in general), is to integrate the information obtained by modern science with the ancient knowledge of psychology. And ancient cosmology provides clues as to how to approach this. Psychological and cosmological knowledge must harmonize if they are both to be true. Laws are everywhere the same, and we cannot apply one set of laws to the human psyche and another to the cosmos.

When I speak of modern science, I mean the knowledge of externals — what I am calling cosmology. This includes, for example, knowledge of the atom and knowledge of the galaxy. It does not include modern psychological knowledge. There is no modern science of psychology, although occasional claims for such are made. A "science", that does not even include such basics as the distinction between instinctive and emotional functions — or moving and intellectual functions — or between consciousness and thought — and has even become elaborated in the confusion of such fundamentals, can only be a kind of superstition, or make-believe teaching.

The investigations of modern science into the physiology of the brain and of neurons in general, however, progresses. It is understandable that in a science that has been so preoccupied with matter we find progress in the study of physical manifestations. The relation of the cerebral cortex to intellectual function and the cerebellum to moving function for example is easily determined if you know psychology, but it cannot be recognized if you don't. Current science should be looking for such things, and tries to, but it cannot.