Fourth Way Perspectives

Book Review
Asking for the Earth:
Waking Up to the Spiritual/Ecological Crisis

by James George
Element, 199 pp.

(#) Parentheses indicate footnote number

James George is a retired Canadian ambassador with a long-standing record of service concerning environmental issues. A founder of the Threshold Foundation and president of the Sadat Peace Foundation, he led the international mission to Kuwait and the Persian Gulf to assess post-war environmental damage. A longtime friend of the Dalai Lama, George is conversant with the spiritual disciplines of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, and Christianity, and a practitioner of the Gurdjieff Work.

If, by a certain time, what ought to be done has not been done, the earth may perish without having attained what it could have attained," Gurdjieff told Ouspensky in 1915. With this as his theme, former Canadian Ambassador James George's book, Asking for the Earth, forcefully demonstrates how relevant Gurdjieff's teaching is to ecology. Summarizing the many psychological and cosmological ideas of Gurdjieff's that relate to a contemporary understanding of ecology, George discusses the role of attention in Work, coming alive to our bodies and "through that connection to start to train the emotions," and the self-centered egotism that keeps the world as it is. On the cosmological side, he writes of the interchangeability of matter and energy, the ray of creation, processes of involution and evolution, the "Autoegocratic" and "Trogoautoegocratic" processes. George sums up with, "I have argued in this book that Gurdjieff has given us both the scientific conceptual framework and the traditional spiritual practices that are needed for the new Renaissance, if there is to be one."

But immediately following this appreciation, what is problematic about this otherwise cogent book emerges clearly. In the next few paragraphs, George discards Gurdjieff's "patriarchality"—so distasteful to a modern sensibility—likening it to the "male hierarchical forms of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism" which came "out of the medieval cultural heritage of Japan and Tibet." His tone invites us to take the position of sensible, culturally advanced people, who must set aside an anachronism so we can retain Gurdjieff's core ideas and get on with what's important. This seems to be part of a consistent attempt to strain out the lumpy bits of Gurdjieff which some find hard to swallow. His Gurdjieff must be "positioned," made palatable, if not pasteurized, for mass consumption. Let's not consider that Gurdjieff's "patriarchality" may not have been so simpleminded as George takes it to have been, that perhaps it pointed the way to an understanding of what is unique about men and women and their respective being duties. And never mind that the "patriarch" passed his teaching on to many strong women, some of whom became leaders, not least of which was Madame de Salzmann, George's own teacher.

Fourth Way as 'Dispensation'

Before George begins his review of what the established 'spiritual traditions' have to offer, he alludes to "two of the new dispensations that may in time become recognized as traditions." [Krishnamurti's teaching and the Gurdjieff Work] Here we see a possible reason for the structure of his book. Isn't having us consider traditional teachings along with those of Gurdjieff an attempt to sneak The Fourth Way through the back door so it takes its place alongside these 'respectable' ways?

Perhaps this is a good idea; surely news of the Work will reach a wider audience. Toward this end, George offers us the lighter side of spirituality, a softer sell than that of Gurdjieff who draws a dark picture of man asleep and "the terror of the situation"—a much more real and a harder sell, as witnessed by the comparatively few who have heard of the Work. The different religions and ways, George tells us, paraphrasing what Gurdjieff told Ouspensky, are like the spokes of a wheel, converging toward a unified view at the hub. True, but won't many readers, in their egotism, feel that they are at the hub, without having arduously followed one of the spokes? And can or should the ways meet other than at the center? What is the aim? The Fourth Way, as Gurdjieff defined it, cannot be understood by the other three ways. It is the way of the sly man, the 'rebel.' It begins beyond the way of the yogi. Furthermore, Gurdjieff points out that "The fourth way differs from the old and the new ways by the fact that it is never a permanent way. It has no definite forms and there are no institutions connected with it. It appears and disappears governed by some particular laws of its own."(1)


(1) P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (Harcourt Brace), p. 312.

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