Gurdjieff International Review

The Key to a Teaching

By D. M. Dooling

How can I speak of him without lying?” asked René Daumal when someone questioned him about God, “and how can I not speak of him without lying?” How can we, how must we, bear witness to our own experience, even if what shaped it was on another level and beyond our understanding?

Once in a long time—some say, only at moments of the greatest human danger and despair—a man appears, it seems, in order to show what has been forgotten; to put things back together again; to return to the light of reason a world tottering on the edge of madness. Gurdjieff called them Messengers from Above. Perhaps they have not all been recognized, even in the light of history; perhaps none of them were recognized, except by a very few, during their lifetimes. Many people think there has been only one such envoy from Heaven, but argue as to whether his name was Jesus, Mohammed or Gautama. For always we drift back into comparison, selection and opposition, until another Teacher appears to transform our inner world and open us for a moment to the reality of wholeness. This appearance is a world event, another chance granted to the human race; yet only a few people, in the fraction of humanity that is living at that moment, know that such an event has occurred. And perhaps the full action of the event depends to some extent on the witness borne to it by these few.

Gurdjieff was such an event for those who came in contact with him. By what chance did we cross his path? Why were we among those on whom his glance happened to rest? We must all have asked ourselves that. We don’t know why; but we were there when Gurdjieff happened, and so he happened to us, and our lives were changed. We were witnesses, worthy or not, of this earthquake.

For it was not a peaceful event, and our lives were not changed peacefully. It is an example of his way of teaching that he called each person not by his accustomed name but by one of his own choosing, a name that surely startled the recipient whenever he heard it and reminded him of something hidden under his usual mask. Even—or especially—in the most ordinary details of eating a meal or sweeping a floor, Gurdjieff spoke to what was real in us under the protective surface, and some part of our defense was shattered. This was painful, or joyful, or both at once, but it was not easy. When one felt the hurt more than the joy of a new freedom, we called him heartless, or ruthless, or destructive. What he destroyed—if we allowed it, for we were free to refuse him—was the shell that divides one from oneself, the “crust that covers conscience” and keeps a man from knowing what he wishes and loving that which he most wishes to love.

Gurdjieff’s way is the way of conscience, the way of “Ashiata Shiemash,” the Fourth Way. And conscience, the consciousness of the feeling part, is the third force, the force that reconciles and unifies, the force that transforms. The fourth way is not a denial of the other three ways: the ways of love, faith and hope, the ways of “the monk, the fakir and the yogi”; it is their blending and transformation. “Man number one (physical man), man number two (emotional man), and man number three (intellectual man)” can be harmonized into man number four, a man who has started on the road to freedom; DO-RE-MI of the individual octave can blend to pass the interval into FA.

Truth is not at home on our level of life; perhaps it is because we see it from a strange angle, peeping at us from above as it were, and partially blocked from view by our nearer obstacles, that it always appears to us as contrary and paradoxical. The Teachers come to heal, to put together, but I suppose they have always been seen as iconoclasts and attackers, come not to bring peace but a sword, “to destroy,” as Gurdjieff said about himself, “mercilessly . . . beliefs and views . . . about everything existing in the world.” Yet no Teacher has ever destroyed or denied the truths of tradition, only their distortions and accretions. Gautama expressed and illuminated the Veda and Jesus gave another dimension to the Judaic Law. If Gurdjieff “destroyed mercilessly,” he also gave “the material for a new creation.” Insisting on man’s nothingness, he never negated the human being; he attacked our masks and our nonsense, never our possibility of becoming what we really are. “He always,” I heard one man say, “made you know that you were someone.” He turned us to look, with eagerness and respect, for our essential selves.

For the key to a teaching, for oneself, is always in oneself; the Teacher, through the teaching, only reveals the way to it. This is why, even after the death of a Master, there is hope for those who come to his teaching never having known him. Yet during his life, in his presence, as if a light shone more strongly, the possibility of this revelation seems much greater. “Let him be followed,” says the beautiful Sufi hymn; “by his presence alone man may be transformed.” With him, we knew ourselves to be potentially different beings; we felt in ourselves the beating of great wings. And Gurdjieff loved and trusted, not us, but that possibility in us, enough to give it no “refuge,” no exterior support in any frame of reference outside himself and ourselves. He gave us no credentials, he did not name his teachers or his sources nor rest the burden of his authority on them. A whole new understanding of generosity is possible in the way he handed on his teaching unlabeled, unprotected, to be proved in life and in truth. He gave us nothing to believe, and everything to know.

Knowing is the action to which he called us. His teaching was not a dogma to be accepted and learned but an invitation to find out, and a lamp—a series of lamps, each one discovering another—for the journey. The knowing required is not in words to be remembered or spoken, but an immediate knowing with the heart and the senses and the instinct as well as with the mind. Only what we know in this total way is our own and can be lived, and only what we live can bear witness to the presence of the Master, alive and operative in a teaching we are still continually discovering, and still seeking to understand.

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Dorothea Matthews Dooling was born in Ohio in 1910. She studied at Oxford, then married and settled in Montana where she raised and home-schooled her six children. She met Gurdjieff for the first time in 1929, and became seriously engaged in the study of his teaching in 1942. In 1953 she moved to New York and became a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation. During the 1960s and 1970s, she was responsible for the Gurdjieff groups in Lima, Peru and Boston. She took an active part in the translation and publication in Spanish of most of the Work literature. In 1976 she founded Parabola Magazine, and continued to work as its editorial director until her death in Montana in 1991.

Copyright © 2004 The Estate of D.M. Dooling
This webpage © 2004 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Fall 2004 Issue, Vol. VIII (1)
Revision: November 1, 2004