Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way And Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: On Essence And Becoming Child-Like

One of the most important concepts I’ve learned in the esoteric philosophy via Gurdjieff, a spiritual teacher, is the concept of there being many I’s. This concept has a few aspects to it.

Throughout one’s life, we presumably acquire likes and dislikes. Not only do we experience this through a lifetime but even within a day.

You can become emphatic about one thing for a moment and move on and feel adverse about another subject the next moment. You are never one “I” for too long. You may say or do one thing one second, and say or do another contradicting, hypocritical thing or  “I” may appear the next time.

When you gain an objective consciousness you can see above from yourself, in complete honesty of who you are and what you become, the different aspects to yourself. You no longer become the I inside the circle (In the diagram below), in essence, you become the circle.


You can view these “I’s” as a section of personality – an ego. As we learn new things, we attach it to our brain – like clothes. Ideas, ideologies, modes of thinking. We may load our mind with ideas and we possibly become attached to them. A lot of the times our personalities may have formed arbitrarily, maybe a previous “personality” was the one that liked a new idea.

I believe the overall objective, according to Gurdjieff is to be able to manage these personalities, and handle it all through an encompassing a broader “I.” What one has to strive for is continuity.

Thus, one has to get back to basics, in effect, becoming child-like (But not necessarily childish.) Back to what Gurdjieff called essence. Essence is what you actually are before fabrications of personality override your self and guide you in a multitude of directions. Essence is your innate traits, your nature.

Essence is the true you, as you are, void of external reference and impressions.

In this instance, I found Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way, on personalities and Essence is comparable to that of Lao Tzu’s, Tao Te Ching, in many segments. Let’s examine these sections and reflect on the idea.

“If you want to become Whole,
let yourself be partial,
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything
give everything up.”

“Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.”

“He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.”

“In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.”

Lao Tzu is saying you must clear all the thoughts and ideas and concepts, wrong notions of yourself and the world you live in. You become reborn in a sense, you become your true self. One way of extending this metaphor of the circle of I’s is comparing it to Lao Tzu’s settling of the dust. Imagine a large jar of water filled with dust, the ideas and notions of oneself flow and is dispersed throughout the water, one must dissipate dust in the water (the concepts) until they settle below in the jar.

It is very similar to what one must achieve in settling ideas in meditation – seeing the thoughts go by as you meditate, examining the thought as they arise but not being completely taken from them, while also concentrating on the breath. However, in contrast the Fourth Way, is more of a conscious living in every day situations and life rather than sitting down cross legged and focusing on the breath. All ideas are to settle you and acquaint yourself with your root, and not become overwhelmed while you are flooded with concepts and situations.

When we grow, through time, we collect impressions and notions from different sources, for better or worse they can override the “primal identity.” When the concepts settle, you are clear as the water, with dust settled below.Yin-Yang-symbol-taoism

To explain the next quote, we must first understand buffers as Gurdjieff put it. Gurdjieff says the following on buffers:

“[Buffers] are not by nature, but by man himself, although involuntarily. The cause of their appearance is the existence in man of many contradictions; contradictions of opinions, feelings, sympathies, words, and actions. If a man throughout the whole of his life were to feel all the contradictions that are within him, he could not live and act as calmly as he lives and acts now. He would have constant friction, constant unrest. If a man were to feel all these contradictions he would feel what he really is. He would feel that he is mad. Buffers are created slowly and gradually. Very many ‘buffers’ are created artificially through ‘education’. Others are created under the hypnotic influence of all surrounding life. It is very hard to live without ‘buffers’. But they keep man from the possibility of inner development because ‘buffers’ are made to lessen shocks and it is only shocks that can lead a man out of the state in which he lives, that is, waken him. ‘Buffers’ lull a man to sleep, give him the agreeable and peaceful sensation that all will be well, that no contradictions exist and that he can sleep in peace. ”.

Buffers may come from different conceptions of self. That is what the Fourth Way and the Tao Te Ching in both their genius are trying to reflect and illuminate. Removing the concepts that have no real root in who you are (or were), but arise for different reasons, whether true or false.

Children are not hindered by the bigger concepts like an adult but that is why both Gurdjieff and Lao Tzu reflect on becoming like a child. Gurdjieff is often quoted to have said the following:

“We must destroy our buffers. Children have none; therefore we must become like little children.”

Let’s put it in another metaphor, we live a life on a timeline, a landscape. Through time, along the landscape we visit different homes (These different homes or ideologies leave impression on us) and may or may not change our personalities from residing in a new home for very long.

You may visit the homes on the landscape but you don’t have to become engulfed or overly attached and identified to any idea or personality. You also may notice, if one stays in one home too long, one may never enter or even examine another home for very long.

But realizing this in context of the Fourth Way and the Tao Te Ching. I feel everything becomes an armor or like clothes upon oneself and the fabrications of what one “is” gathers. We attach concepts on us like clothes, the trick is to understand when or why you are doing it so you can see yourself above yourself, in complete consciousness and awareness.

When you achieve objective consciousness as Gurdjieff describes, you are no longer asleep. Maurice Nicoll described it in this manner in his commentary: “What you took as yourself begins to look like a little prison-house far away in the valley beneath you.

“Can you choose not to be angry in the face of something that makes you angry?”

The real Gold of all these matters is this: because you understand that you are not necessarily always the same person at any given time. Realizing that you can become identified with your personality, ie  impressions and ideas, possible mental baggage, all accumulated over a period of time. Realizing that you are developing, you have the ability to change yourself, at any moment. You can seek and understand more from different vantage points. You are not your current circumstance and that you can adapt to the circumstance. You are not as easily offended or emotionally riled up. You are not overly invested and keen on many ideas, but you can freely examine all of them. You can remain rooted in yourself whatever the situation.

That is the true gold of these concepts. That is why I love it.

Enough philosophical chat for now, Have a great week!

Books Mentioned:

P.D. Ouspensky “Fourth Way”

Lao Tzu “Tao Te Ching” 

2 thoughts on “Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way And Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: On Essence And Becoming Child-Like

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