Saturday, March 8, 2008

the search for impartiality

Perhaps yesterday’s quote should have been titled, “live, ponder, study.”

I say that because as I sit here and live, I ponder just what it is that I study.

This morning, before my sitting I was reading and studying “The Tantric Mysticism of Tibet” (John Blofeld,) which I gratefully received from Paul Reynard’s library after he died.

The book is filled with ideas. Because I like to study ideas, I certainly don’t discount or disparage the practice of acquiring information in this way, but the majority of my study within this life is no longer centered around ideas taken in in this manner. It is centered, more and more, within the direct experience of immediately existing conditions.

For example, right now, I find myself living within conditions in front of my computer in my hotel room in Shanghai. While the ideas I am delineating here in the blog are interesting to me, the center of gravity of my interest lies in the physical sensation I find within me, and the state of the energy within this body.

So I study the inner structure, its receptivity, and the activity level of the various parts in relationship to each other. The observation of--and investment in--these situations and conditions helps to feed the relationship between the parts.

They actually do not need that much help from me; insofar as they are able to function, they function rather well on their own, and they know much better than I do what is needed. It is the support from my attention that can help feed them, and above all, "my" role--the role of effort within this life--is to provide them with food.

So here I am, within conditions, studying the tensions within the body and the interrelated nature of the inner and outer experience. I find that I need to remain much more aware of both these states: the various vibrations of the inner state, as determined by the centers, and the arrival of the vibrations of the outer state.

There are these two sets of conditions. My attention lives at the juncture between them.

This attention that is necessary cannot be manufactured; it is born. (Henry Brown used to refer to it as the "effortless effort.") It is in my attendance at this birth that I make effort and do work. I am not the world’s most adept midwife; I am clumsy, and (always, forever) new at it, and don’t know that much about the process.

I do know, however, that the process of birth is not without pain, and that babies need diligent attention and care.

Resident within this body, I seek and find the nodes of nourishment and the areas where food is available. I work with what I have; I try to peel my oranges piece by piece and eat them slice by slice, not crush them to extract the juice. Force doesn’t work well here.

So this is what I study: my organic conditions. Not my thoughts. Not my constructions, manipulations, speculations, or opinions. Again and again, I return to the organic conditions, to see what relationship I have to the organic sense of my being. This kind of study isn’t made up of ideas or theories. It is constructed from actual living relationship.

As it happens, I am currently in touch with some people who are working on the Gurdjieff ideas in Beijing. By happy coincidence, some of them are going to come down to Shanghai to meet with me next week.

This is very interesting, because I don’t know much about what is going on with the Gurdjieff ideas in China – and no one else I know at the New York Foundation seems to either. So as I write this, I find myself anticipating this meeting.

I see the mental construction being created within anticipation: imaginations about how it will be, what I might say, and so on. I need to remind myself that I have to live within the immediate experience of relationship, and present myself within the moment based on how I am.

This means the preparation for what will come does not consist (as it might in my usual business negotiations) of manufacturing prepackaged ideas for exchange, or of constructing (and hence arriving with) agendas, but simply of being spontaneously present within myself at the moment, as it arrives. After all, I know from experience that the circumstances will be different than I imagine them; the people will be different than I can imagine them; their questions will be different than I can imagine them.

In order to do the best job I can of being in relationship with them, I will need to turn to my own inner relationship first.

Once again, this brings me back to the question of how I study myself, and what I study.

Wrapping it up- in regard to the last two posts, and this one—

Engaged as I currently am in audio editing of the final outstanding chapter of Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson,” I was today reminded by the following commentary on understanding the law of three and the law of seven:

“Furthermore, an all-around awareness of everything concerning these sacred laws makes it possible for three brained beings…to become able, in the presence of all surrounding cosmic factors not depending on them, whether favorable or unfavorable, to ponder on the sense and aim of their own existence, and so to acquire data for the elucidation and reconciliation in themselves of that ‘individual collision,’ as it is called, which often arises in three-brained beings from the contradiction between the concrete results flowing from the process of all the cosmic laws and the results presupposed and even definitely expected by their ‘sane logic.’ And so, correctly evaluating the significance of their own presence, they become capable of being aware of the place truly corresponding to them in these common-cosmic actualizations.” (pages 691-692 of the Viking Arkana Edition, 1992.)

As Beelzebub further reports to Hassein, the study of these two laws, which must first and foremost be conducted according to inner experience, can lead a man to impartiality.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Friday, March 7, 2008

live, think, study

I live, I think, I study.

In living, thinking, and studying, my ordinary mind seems inescapable: it seizes and interprets absolutely everything.

I watch this activity go on day by day and—“standing in the middle”—find my Self baffled by the difference between the activity of the mind, and the action of living experience.

There is a dualism here; a tension created by two different states of being that are coexistent, but not congruent.

On the one hand, I dwell within the confines of a mind that seizes; in seizing, it extracts the life from life, rendering it lifeless.

On the other, I discover the freedom of a mind that receives, and in receiving allows movement to be movement, preserving the living relationship as it participates.

The action of living experience contains and is contained by mindfulness, but it is not born of, and does not even need, the action of mind that seizes, that is, what Gurdjieff would call the associative mind.

This associative mind overflows with the ability to create and elaborate fascinating and beautiful constructions, but it does not--cannot--touch what is real. It is functionally separated from the real by its inherent partiality: the fact that it does not consist of the whole functioning of the parts of Being, but is just a convincing fraction.

The action of living experience is more whole, and dwells much closer to what is real; an umbilical cord of nourishment, rather than the sterile probe of association. It has no direct need of mind that seizes. It transcends intellect and replaces it with another quality, which is not what we would usually call mind. In fact this quality is unknown by this “thing” my Being is used by, called “mind;” it lies outside its domain.

So I see my inner self craves not my usual “life of the mind,” but rather a life within mindfulness. In this potentiality of Being, perception needs no commentary, needs no interpretation. It exists within and of itself, as a function of Being. It ceases to explain and instead experiences.

This question brings me back to the functional hypothesis of this blog, that is, "There is no "I", there is only truth. The way to the truth is through the heart."

Can "I" be discovered within the action of living experience? The distinction, which is made of words, becomes irrelevant, as do most of the constructions we carry within us. These are functions of what personality and society have built in us, not the living breath of our essence, which is Truth.

Within the action of living experience, life is immediate, tangible. Richer in sensation and perception, but lacking in deduction and analysis. Intellect assumes a simpler, much more quiescent posture, accepting the conditions, and observing the state. It has no need to create achievement, because achievement is discovered within the simple act of existence itself. There is no need for artifice, for art is born within the act of experience. And it finds satisfaction—the experience of being well fed—within the moment, because it is properly ingesting the food of life, instead of regurgitating most of it.

So my two qualities of Being find themselves coexistent within one body, in oscillation--perhaps even in direct conflict.

I seek first an awareness of these two natures, born of organism and not mind. Second, a more active choice directed at the cultivation of the inward quality. Third, a remembering of inner sensation: the inner sense of touch.

Sharpening the acuity of inner perception; sending the messenger of attention down into the interstices between the cells; cultivating the magnetism of the marrow: this is where the organic sense of being is born. Where the growth of the awareness can be discovered.

Here, hidden within silence and darkness, are streams that flow and water that feeds.

May your roots find this water, and your leaves know sun.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Reverence - The inner sense of touch

  1. In encountering ordinary life, I see that a proper sense of reverence is
    usually lacking in me.

    I think we're all like this- we take our life for granted, as though it
    belongs to us and we can do anything we want with it. As if nothing is
    owed, as if life itself were cheap- and indeed, we treat it so, don't we?
    Our life, our time on this planet, usually gets handled as casually as so
    much loose change in our pocket. It takes a big shock to change that.

    Dogen pointed this lack out many times, and urged us to practice "as though
    extinguishing flames from around our head." In other words, to value our
    opportunity within life very differently--with a real sense of urgency.

    It's true. There needs to be a new and completely different valuation of
    life- a valuation that begins with an inner appreciation. This appreciation
    needs to be born of discrimination, and of an inner sensitivity that is
    usually not present.

    When we are judgmental, we lack reverence. When we take the small events in
    life for granted, we lack reverence. When we fail to attend--first to
    ourselves, and then to others--we lack reverence. When we are drawn out of
    ourselves and into what is inappropriate or childish, we lack reverence.

    It's this lack of reverence that leads to my disrespect for life--and that
    disrespect manifests as a failure of attention. In this state I don't
    contain myself; I am outward, not inward; I am drawn into exchanges and
    relationships where I am all too willing to ignore the appropriate inner
    gravity. Here is where the lack of reverence, of mindfulness, becomes

    Maintaining a connection to the physical gravity of the body through
    sensation is the beginning of reverence. It's only through this inner sense
    of touch that I can remind myself of what I am, where I am, and how
    precious this commodity called life is.

    Life itself is always a food. Every life becomes food for other lives:
    there is no exception to this rule. As I eat, so will I be eaten, and what
    I eat spiritually will become food for others, as well as my own Being.

    Thus the need to approach meals with reverence: to understand that just as
    every meal becomes food for the body, so every impression, no matter how
    small, no matter how insignificant, becomes food for the growth of the

    Eventually, it's the simultaneous receiving of both inner and outer
    impressions that becomes our daily bread.

    Attending to the myriad tiny rootlets of sensation helps collect such inner
    food. As we meet the ordinary outer impressions of life, if we are at the
    same time drawing water from the wells that lie within, we will find

    May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

food and scale: impressions from shanghai

This afternoon as I sat down to lunch- Japanese fried rice at a local noodle shop on the sixth floor of a building on Nanjing road- I received, for a moment, a real impression of gratitude for the food.

Like all such impressions, it was organic rather than intellectual—a resonance of reality within being--not an idea of what the food was, but rather an experience. It was very ordinary food, in a very ordinary place. Nonetheless (and I'll grant this may sound odd) the very fact that we have food and can eat it struck me as extraordinary.

As a matter of course, I find, I develop and retain little appreciation for the effort that goes into providing me with food. Modern food production and delivery methods have distanced me from what food costs, and what it is worth.

Every bit of food that is given is, in a very real sense, hard-won from the processes that nature uses to support itself. All of it begins with an absolutely incomprehensible expenditure of energy on the part of the sun. Plants receive a tiny fraction of that largess, and make use of devilishly intricate molecular mechanisms to harvest and store the energy. From there it moves up the food chain in a process that is paid for by one death after another, until it finally reaches us in a
form we can understand. Except that we no longer understand it any more.

All of life is based on consumption. In biological life, it is a science. In works of the spirit, we might argue, it grows into art; but in works of the flesh, it decays into vice.

As we sit with food in front of us perhaps we can take a moment to sense just what it is to eat.

Another impression garnered at lunch on the street: Nanjing road, one of Shanghai’s premier shopping districts... there are so many people on this planet. The numbers are absolutely staggering, and it is only by perpetually forgetting what we see around us that we manage to separate ourselves into the microcosms of our own lives. And in that desperate isolation, become enslaved to our imaginations, where we assume all the significance.

Bizarre, isn't it?

It occurs to me that man has two “settings” in his current psychological state: both consist of hypnosis.

One is self-hypnosis, the art of falling into the narrow perspective of ego, where there is no one and nothing but one’s self and one’s needs and greeds.

The other is mass hypnosis, whereby men become part of a mob and lose themselves in a torrent of collective psychopathy—usually ending in what Gurdjieff referred to as “the process of reciprocal destruction.”

There’s very little middle ground between the two, and what there is is occupied by a distinct minority of people who realize that there is something wrong both with their own perception of the world--and everyone else’s. Weird people. People, for example, who are willing to read "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson." An unlikely enterprise, if ever there was one.

No individual force is going to change this very much; in this sense, Gurdjieff’s pessimistic assessment of the potential for humanity’s evolution as a whole seems entirely justified. It’s only on the individual level that such evolution is possible, yet such evolution is only possible by, at the outset, recognizing our own nothingness.

Many, many years ago, very early on a Thursday morning in Manhattan, Peggy Flinsch began a sitting with the statement, “We are tiny little creatures.”

The truth of those words dropped into the well of silence in the room like a stone, sending out ripples that are, these many years later, still reverberating against the walls of my Being.

That was most of what she said during that sitting, but I felt then (and still feel now) that she touched on something essential which we, in our sleep, forget. It’s only when I try—as I did this morning—to truly sense just how tiny I am that the scale of the universe begins to beggar my considerable imagination and I am forced to concede defeat. I’ll never be able to grasp how small I am. And—drawing from yet another lesson from my group leader Betty Brown—I’m reminded of how presumptuous, yes, even arrogant, my belief both in my own importance and what I am trying is.

It may well be that the only real measure of my worth will be in terms of relationship and participation, both of which require me to give up some of this disease called egoism.

Being on the spot in both an inner and an outer sense demands some sensitivity to these questions, which can be difficult to muster when jet lag is having its way with the organism. Nonetheless, in an inner sense, there is support within sensation—and, as always, I return to this opportunity, because that is where the root of it all lies.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Joy and Satisfaction

Over the past few weeks, the question has become more active in me of the difference between joy and satisfaction; what they mean, and how the two experiences relate to our inner search.

“Joy” is, apparently, what we seek. We all wish to be free of negativity, of suffering, of the pain and challenge of life. And indeed, if the deus ex machina of enlightenment arrives, we are to presume, we will be freed of negativity and feel this “joy unending.” Those who attain such states dwell in the joy of the Lord and speak from the joy of the Lord; they call us to joy, and they assert that joy is all there is. I hear about this a lot in the church; as far as it goes, it’s wonderful.

But how far does it go? I first put the word in quotation marks because our “ordinary” understanding of the word is insufficient. What does anyone who repeats these words actually know about joy? And how do we relate this idea of joy to the demonstrably more complex understandings of reality, existence, and religious experience offered to us by Gurdjieff, and by Dogen?

Here’s the difficulty, symbolically rendered: just how do we square it with the image of a Man nailed to a cross?

All of the statements about how amazing spiritual joy is are, insofar as they go, true. There is indeed such a thing; there is a state where we can be completely free of negativity, and a joy so deep and fundamental that it overrides all other inner conditions.

There is, however, a catch-22 to the experience of true joy--joy without quotation marks. Joy, like all other cosmic arisings, has not one but three aspects. The joy religious people and teachers generally speak of experiencing is the affirming joy--the joy of yes, the joy of the positive, the joy of fulfillment: affirming joy. This joy bubbles up within the being like fresh spring water, conferring spiritual immunity.

There is a second joy, however. It’s a darker joy, of a vintage rarely sipped by man: denying joy. This is the joy of anguish, the joy of sorrow. It is the polar opposite of affirming joy, and is as far from it as anything one could imagine. But it is still joy.

The third force in the arising of joy is the inextricable intertwining of these two forces, where affirming joy and denying joy (sorrow) become one within man. In this is created reconciling joy, which balances the two states and creates a transformative experience of Being.

This deepest “joy,” as I have mentioned before, consists of equal measures of joy and anguish. One absolutely cannot have one without the other; they are inextricably intertwined at the heart of the universe. It is a food far too rich for us to swallow under any ordinary set of circumstances. A man has to have real courage to swallow much of this ambrosia, because it’s fatal to all that we are in our present state; the sweetest, but deadliest, poison to the ego. I daresay few would drink it willingly.

I cannot say it any more clearly: Joy is born from sorrow.

Bliss, the ice-cold touch of the divine upon the parts of ourselves that we cannot know with the ordinary mind, is a divine substance that expresses itself in the human body under certain conditions. Bliss attunes the nervous system to receive this experience that arises at the heart of reality itself. That arising is the simultaneous arising of both joy and sorrow, ecstasy and anguish, from the One Well where All that Is arises.

Bliss, in other words, prepares us to receive something, and that something is food. This is where we reach the question of satisfaction.

Satisfaction is to be sated; and to be sated means to be filled, to have a hunger met and satisfied by the arrival of food. So if we are satisfied, literally, it means we have eaten well.

What is it that we eat, that can bring inner satisfaction?

This goes back to one of the core teachings Gurdjieff offered us: the law of reciprocal feeding. Everything in the universe feeds everything else; and in this case, what feeds is impressions. So once again we come back to our current theme of ingesting the impressions of life. Satisfaction- to be sated, to be filled—is to be filled with life. This does not mean to be happy, or sad, in any conventional terms, and to confuse “the joy of the Lord” with our conventional ideas or experiences creates mistaken understandings. Inner joy and outward joy are quite different.

Ordinary life, outer life, brings us ordinary food of three kinds: the solids we eat, the air we breathe, and impressions. Of the three, the most refined food is impressions.

At the same time, with proper preparation, we can receive inner impressions. These are a higher, finer kind of food. A great deal of the question of joy versus satisfaction centers around the question of this spiritual food, which was incidentally the heart of Christ’s mission, and a continuing interest of Paul in his letters. The question itself is still found at the heart of the Holy Communion in Christianity, which asks us to participate in the receiving of spiritual food in the body and blood of Christ. This spiritual food is not just what brings us joy, but what fills us; and if it arrives, it is literally received in the vehicle of the physical body and the vehicle of the blood itself—what Gurdjieff called Hanbledzoin—because this is the tool we are given to eat of this food.

To receive is not just to feel joy. It is to suffer, that is, to participate in taking on the burden of the sorrow of His Endlessness.

Of all history’s many avatars, Christ’s sacrifice alone offers us a stunning visual allegory of just how much suffering exists, and what is called for. Christ, in his efforts to save mankind, pulled off the blinders: we were offered a true picture of how much God pays for our existence.

So to experience joy is not the ultimate, heartfelt purpose of existence. It’s a step on the path; a big one, to be sure, but to stop here is to stop while enveloped within rapture, rather than to take one step further and ask, “what is required of me?”

In craving joy, the spiritual seeker asks “how much can I get?” This, while magnificent, is no more than a form of desire.

In accepting suffering, the seeker asks, “what can I give?” This is a form of non-desire: detachment.

Perhaps this is why Gurdjieff asked man to cultivate non-desire, and why Buddhist practice seeks detachment.

In opening the soul to the root of Being, where the two forces join at a single root, we may begin to approach the idea of satisfaction, that is, eating enough of the right food, and thereby fulfilling man’s inherent purpose on earth.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Monday, March 3, 2008


I am on the road once again, cribbing time to offer impressions from airport lounges and other ordinary places.

Nothing, however, is ordinary. I see this again and again as I travel, finding myself in circumstances where the body is saturated with the unfamiliar.

To be blind--to be dead-- as the words are used in the New Testament means to be immersed in the ordinary and to take it for granted.

We're all like this; this is sleep; believing it's all "normal." In sleep we fail to touch and be touched by the delicate nerves that connect us more firmly to reality-- a lack, as we have discussed many times, that proceeds directly from our lack of inner unity-- our lack of impartiality.

"Revelation" means, among other things, that which is revealed. Life itself strikes me as a continual revelation.

No matter what anyone says--and there are a lot of people who claim they know--we don't know who we are or why we are here. Take a look at how large the cosmos is and try to interpret that.

That work of understanding is not a predetermined work which can be delivered a priori, that is, before the fact. The work of understanding this life can only take place within the living of life itself. A priori, the only thing we can be sure of is that we are in this body, having these experiences. Everything begins there, and everything follows after it. We can paper the walls of perception with assumptions and conjecture all we want: the arrival of life in this moment continues to defy our interior decorator's impulse.

And we are interior decorators: for what happens inside us takes place within a structure, an inner house. The fact that we want the walls, ceilings, and floors of that house to look a certain way is a superficiality. Such decor is according to the whim and opinion of the artist. In devoting far too much time to decorating the walls, we fail to attend to the soundness of the structure: making sure the roof doesn't leak, that termites are not at work eating our foundation. The connection between the mind and the body is equivalent to the attention of the engineer, the one who makes sure the house--beautifully decorated, to be sure--won't collapse.

So life arrives unexpectedly, miraculously, immediately: as a sending from that intangible "other side" of reality which Ouspensky mentioned on the very first page of "In Search Of The Miraculous." --The real side of reality, the one unadorned by our festive wallpapers and exotic furnitures.

Here is this life, meeting the body, flowing into the senses as impressions: inside and out, a continuous encounter with the unknown. It may seem familiar, but I know that it isn't: every new moment comes as a surprise, from a certain point of view. The work of knowing is being in front of this living stream of truth as it arrives. Being in front of it from inside, from the point of view of more than one part: from the point of view of both the inner and the outer.

If the energy in the body is more rightly ordered, if the senses are receptive through the organic sense of being, we see that the immediate impressions of life itself are a food that we are always eating. If we eat with more attention, if we eat with more participation, then we eat well, and our sense of satisfaction is better fed.

Can we breathe life in? Do we know what that means? Can we physically, tangibly drink life itself as it arrives at the doorstep?

What heady wine would that be?

These are questions worth asking, as we seek the connection with the inner self, that self which is not devoted to and corrupted by our ordinary senses. To me, the work of understanding lies within this question--the immediate effort of receiving the food of life-- "this daily bread"-- and understanding that life itself , as it arrives at the doorstep of the self, is the transformational sacred bread and wine of the communion.

I'll be posting next from Shanghai. Until then, all be well.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The unexpected: anguish

The most difficult thing that stands between each of us and a real inner discovery is our expectations.

Gurdjieff was surrounded with people who expected things to be a certain way. By all reports, he continually confounded those expectations. It was as though he knew that everything people expect, all the opinions, habits, and desires they have are fundamentally, irrevocably off the mark.

It is not just our expectations of ordinary life that are off the mark. It is our expectations of what our inner life is, ought to be, could be. We don't know anything about what we are asking for in the work we undertake. Its results themselves will defy explanations, and cannot be put into words.

I was reminded of this today by the story from John that we heard in church. It's the story about Christ healing the blind man by spitting on mud and rubbing it on his eyes.

The man whose sight was healed understood that a power that could achieve this this had to come directly from God, but no one else wanted to admit it.

The Jewish authorities were upset about the whole episode: it took place on the Sabbath, which was all-out wrong to begin with, because no one is supposed to do anything on the Sabbath. The laws -- you will recall our discussions on this in the last week -- forbid any kind of work on the Sabbath -- even healing someone. On top of that, no one was supposed to have that kind of ability.

Enlightenment and miracles, it turns out, are the tools of troublemakers. Even the man's own parents didn't want to get involved.

Christ's miraculous deed (as in the case with others) defied all expectation. It didn't fall within the known range of experience -- the blind man himself said, "no one has ever done this before in history."

I wonder -- is it possible for us to throw everything away on our own? Can we detach from, free ourselves of our own associations and expectations?

Or must that be done through an outside agent?

Traditionally, gurus play the role of the one who gives the shock to the disciple in spiritual works. This is done in order to free them from their associations. There's a long-standing tradition in Zen, for example, that ranges from asking people impossible questions to beating them with sticks in order to get them to think outside the box -- that is, to stop thinking, as I said yesterday.

Because it is the thinking that produces all the expectations. In some ways, it would almost be better to be stupid, to be without any thoughts at all, to just be blank, so that something different, something entirely new could arrive.

What we are now is so thoroughly crystallized, so absolutely set in concrete, that it has to be broken for us before anything new can start. From this point of view, every trial and tribulation is of value, and even disaster itself may be our friend.

As we deepen our commitment to our work, as we place one inner foot in front of the other on a journey down a staircase that descends into the depths of the soul, we may learn to value the things that go wrong. After all, we learn things from sorrow and from grief and that cannot be learned in any other way.

At the heart of every real contact with the divine lies not just bliss, but a limitless sorrow, an anguish so great that to receive it is almost impossible for the soul to bear. It's a good thing that this does not touch us too often, or for too long. We would never be able to bear it. We are much too small. Such anguish is a gift: not what we expect, but what is sent. Through it we learn humility and we cleanse ourselves of our egoism and our arrogance.

In it lie the roots of what man calls joy, but it is a different kind of joy than what makes us laugh, dance, and sing.

In abandoning expectation, and deepening the inner search, perhaps we can seek the scent, the sweet perfumed musk of that anguish, as a hint of sorrow in the air that we breathe in and the body that receives it.

I will be traveling to China over the next two days, and it's quite likely posting may be interrupted. Once I get there, we will resume our mutual efforts at exploration.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Not thinking

I do a great deal of thinking, as readers will notice.

This doesn't, however, mean that I endorse the activity. There are times, in fact, when I don't think. That is, I have numerous experiences where the mind shuts down, so to speak, and all that is present is a state in which the world just arrives. States of this kind-- which arise from a certain form of inner gravity--are saturated, and become a meaning in and of themselves. I don't need to assign meaning to them, because in these moments I can see that "meaningful meaning" already exists, before "I" get there.

One might say that meaning is inherent within the dharma, in the same way that satisfaction is potentially inherent within the organism.

I'm sure most of you will find this quite hard to believe, but the thinking part as we usually experience it isn't really necessary for most of life. A great deal of the time we spend "thinking" is actually just time spent uselessly spinning our wheels, adopting and examining various theories about life ...most of them based on our emotional reactions. At such times the mind is like a monkey jumping through the trees, leaping adeptly from one branch to another...

for what?

The idea of inner silence is based around a kind of quiescence that accepts and receives. This experience has a good deal to do with yesterday's post about satisfaction. To accept and receive without the usual deconstructing and nit-picking can be refreshing.

To stop thinking and allow impressions to flow in less impeded would be a big thing. Thinking, however, is so ingrained that unless the organism itself decides to step in and lend a hand with this, there's no reasonable way to side-step the process short of regular, committed efforts at meditation.

I'll have to stop here for today, as the wife calls...

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Friday, February 29, 2008


The classic pop song line of the modern world is probably "I can't get no satisfaction."

It seems to be the swan song of western civilization, and perhaps civilization in general. After all, mankind, in his relentless pursuit of what he thinks is satisfaction-- a supposedly sated state in which he has grabbed, eaten, or screwed everything of an external nature within his vicinity--is well on in the process of trashing the entire planet. All because of a slavish devotion to the very crudest form of materialism: the idea that satisfaction is gained by acquiring or manipulating the external.

No idea is more ubiquitous, and no idea could be more mistaken. Real satisfaction, lasting satisfaction, can only arise from within a man, and must do so, initially, independent of his external circumstances. Satisfaction must stem from the organic state, from an inherent right work of the body and mind itself which begins before the external is encountered.

Anyone who has had a taste of this kind of satisfaction will know that it arises in places that cannot be defined, and is the result of ingesting substances we cannot even see. It's the satisfaction of the spirit, not the flesh: the satisfaction of a fine vibration of ordinary impressions, rather than gorging on overwhelming stimuli created and calculated only to impress.

In Dogen's Shobogenzo, the very last chapter--a stand-alone masterpiece in its own right-- is entitled Hachi-Dainingaku: "The Eight Truths of a Great Human Being." Here we find the following:

"2) To know satisfaction (to take within limits from among things already gained is called "to know satisfaction.)

The Buddha said, "If you bhiksus desire to get rid of all kinds of suffering, you should reflect on knowing satisfaction. The practice of knowing satisfaction is the very place of abundance, joy, and peace. People who know satisfaction, even when lying on the ground, are still comfortable and joyful. Those who do not know satisfaction, even when living in a heavenly palace, are still not suited. Those who do not know satisfaction, even if rich, are poor. People who know satisfaction, even if poor, are rich. Those who do not know satisfaction are constantly led by the five desires; they are pitied by those who know satisfaction. This is called "to know satisfaction." (Nishijima and Cross translation, Dogen Sangha press, p. 210.)

It would be difficult to make it clearer that real satisfaction never arises from reliance on the external. Yet all of us doggedly pursue "happiness" through outward life, outward practice, outward relationship, as though it were something we could catch.

Something we could grasp.

If we are made free through an absence of grasping, what is it that we should not grasp? Only an inner vision can help us find an answer to that question.

This type of satisfaction arises as a result of inner unity. Only by fostering the proper flow of inner energies between centers--a work conducted by unifying the relationship of the inner flowers--can we hope to begin to understand what that means. This is what my old group leader Henry Brown used to refer to as impartiality. Henry used this word often, and he never meant objectivity when he used it: that is something different.

Impartiality is wholeness of the parts, the welding into a single unit of the various inner organs that receive vibrations of various intensities.

In a state where energies are in relationship, satisfaction is inherent. It arises from within the organism to meet the circumstances: the circumstances do not flow into the organism to create satisfaction.

Through impartiality, satisfaction is derived from all states and all circumstances.

Because of this, perhaps we might say that impartiality leads to objectivity, because in an impartial state the weight of external factors is equalized. Our usual judgmental attitude evaporates and is replaced by an acceptance that does not reflexively value--and thus also reflexively devalue--outward circumstances. Circumstances become "just so." We cannot do this; but it can be done in us, as in, "thy will be done."

This particular state of receptivity is a mystery, because even from within it, we may not know where it comes from or where it goes. Such questions, however, no longer matter; the nowness of the present state and our ability to receive our lives become the priority. In not knowing anything, we know everything.

The potential for satisfaction lies within us, not outside of us, and it is very real--ultimately, more real and more durable than anything the "ordinary" or external world, the coarse world of the five senses, world can offer.

Only, however, by diligently pursuing an inner journey towards wholeness can we begin to approach the idea from a practical point of view.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Faith, Law, Intelligence and Obedience

When Gurdjieff stated that "Man cannot do," he misspoke.

What he actually meant was "Man cannot do-- much."

This is clear enough, because if man was unable to do anything at all, inner development would not be possible. In that case, the whole concept of inner evolution would go out the door with the bath water. And, as Gurdjieff elaborately explains in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, God actually changed the universe from a universe in which everything proceeded absolutely mechanically and automatically to one where intervention of a different kind was necessary. Elements in the universe began to operate within an atmosphere of choice, rather than the law alone.

God, apparently, was lonely enough to want some other players in the game.

I don't blame Him.

Tension between the forces of faith and law is a recurring theme in Paul's letters. In every case, he cites faith as the superior force. This is because (as God Himself originally concluded) an inner evolution that takes place because of initiative -- faith -- is superior to one that takes place mechanically, according to law. The universe can run on laws, but without initiative, it is sterile. We might view the shock of organic life as the main force on our level that runs counter to law, even while it is subjected to it. Organic life, after all, disobeys fundamental principles of entropy by organizing itself into hierarchies of increasing complexity in situations where, from what we can observe about universal law, everything definitely ought to become more disorganized. So right there, it is outside the law.

Of course, "scientists" have come up with a clever explanation for this outright contradiction of ordinary entropic law by claiming that this kind of thing can happen in some places, as long as it is counteracted elsewhere, but to me this is an utterly bogus explanation, about as bogus as the invocation of "dark matter" to explain things that, more rightly said, nobody actually understands at all, in any way.

We can correlate this theme of faith and law to intelligence and obedience. Faith is a choice made by intelligence -- the man who has faith decides to act. The man who acts under law does so only because he has to.

However--I ask myself. Is it true that choice is always superior to compulsion?

It seems to me that there is a regular and inevitable tension between these two forces. We cannot have a universe without laws. The concept itself is fundamental. It is the action of choice within the context of a law that makes initiative meaningful: action outside of context cannot be meaningful. So the very fact that we live in a universe where certain things are compulsory is what makes the action of choice, and the concept of freedom in itself, meaningful.

In Paul's repeated exploration of faith and law, we continually encounter the clash between matters of the flesh, which are determined by obedience and law, versus matters of the Spirit, which are determined by intelligence and faith.

We can look at obedience and law as being connected to the literal, or the outer. They are concrete, physical, and completely mechanical. Their character is static and fixed. In a world dominated by these influences, external influences, man finds himself under the compulsions of biology, society: in short, the cravings and desires of the flesh. This is, allegorically speaking, Gurdjieff's universe-level of 48 laws.

Faith and intelligence insert a new element into the operation of obedience and law, one which understands that obedience and law, while valuable, have their limitations. They call a man to look inward, to a quality within him that is separate from compulsions imposed by his physical requirements. They call on him to begin to sense that there is something inside him that is different than what biology and society demand.

That there is something other than ordinary desire available, or, rather, a different kind of desire. This desire consists of what we call wish: an instinctive longing for God. The inward journey frees men from some of the laws and compulsions that they find themselves under when they are under outer influences.

Those who have read Gurdjieff's work will recall that he has several different essays, both in Views From The Real World, and in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, where he talks about men being strictly under outer influences. In every case, Gurdjieff ascribes this to an inner weakness.

These parables are reminiscent of the conflicts that Paul raises in his letters: the difference between matters of the law and matters of faith. Faith, as we know, is supposed to be a source of inner strength for man, whereas law is a crutch that man leans on to relieve himself of the need to make choices.

A man --"man" without quotation marks, man as he might be--relies on faith, he relies on intelligence. This requires effort.

A machine relies on law and obedience. Effort in this case is minimal, because all the requirements are predetermined.

This doesn't mean that an intelligent or faithful man is relieved of his responsibilities in regard to law and obedience: the difference is that he knows he has them.

The machine does not know that there is the possibility of faith and intelligence, because all it can be aware of is law and obedience. It is one rung down the ladder. This is where we we all find ourselves within what is called sleep: enslaved by the desires of the flesh, enslaved by law, and enslaved by obedience.

Hence, the conclusion that faith and intelligence, properly understood as an inner search, may move us in the direction of consciousness.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Deepening the question

Surrounded as we are by the stunning, almost impossible-to-believe complexity and beauty of nature, how is it that we manage to separate ourselves so thoroughly from it, and become relentless "biped destroyers of nature's good" as Gurdjieff referred to mankind?

The damage that we do arises from a disconnect between the nature of our organism, its biology, and the intellectual (associative) mind, which has established itself as an independent authority. This mind, which seems to understand so much and have so many extraordinary capabilities, is actually lacking in fundamental tools of perception which are necessary to see our relationship to nature. Said tools lie within the scope of the emotions and the physical, or moving, center.

Emotions are generally experienced as a reactive force, but that is a relatively crude interpretation of their function. Emotions are above all sensory tools. They are just meant to sense reality in a quite different way than the intellect does.

The emotional center is capable of a completely different level of sensation than what we call "emotions" in ordinary life. In the Gurdjieff work, we often refer to such emotive abilities as "feelings" to distinguish them from ordinary emotions. In some ways, for me, the word lacks sufficient force, but it does indicate the delicate sensory capabilities.

Under generalized conditions, the only way a man will ever come into contact with this type of emotional sensation is by the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs, which have the unfortunate effect of presenting everything at once, and in a completely disorganized manner. This is why cultures that use them for enlightenment purposes (shamanic cultures) do so only under the guidance of men with a great deal of experience in such matters. We don't have that benefit, so for us this path is fraught with unacceptable risks.

The reason that these drugs produce such effects is because the human nervous system is specifically designed to be able to perceive in that manner. It evolved that way. It isn't accidental, and it didn't arise by chance. Human beings are, by purpose and intention on the part of nature, able to see things in manners and on levels that the intellectual mind simply cannot comprehend.

Except in very special and unusual cases, in order for the emotions to function in this manner, years of work and meditation are necessary. No one wants to bother with this these days; more immediate gratification in the form of ordinary sensory pleasures is, as it always has been, very readily available. On top of that we have stacked an incessant stream of media, which functions pretty much the same way cocaine does, that is, by artificially overstimulating the senses until they are incapable of functioning normally.

If mankind reconnected his parts, his appreciation of nature and his place in it would deepen immeasurably. That does not seem like a likely prospect right now, given the overwhelming tide of blunted sensibility that is sweeping the planet.

It may sound pessimistic to say that the chances for mankind as a whole in evolving back in the right direction are low, but Gurdjieff himself would definitely agree. He always maintained that mankind's evolution as a whole would never be able to progress past what was specifically necessary for the planet at any given time. We may not even be meeting that benchmark right now as a species. Most of our activity seems to involve the wholesale destruction of our natural environment with absolutely no regard to the fact that without it, we will expire.

Nonetheless, as individuals, every one of us has opportunities. Every single one of you who is reading this has already made a choice to try and understand something differently. That doesn't mean you have withdrawn from life, or refuse to participate in what is taking place -- good or bad, media-saturated or otherwise.

It means that you are trying to learn how to draw a different kind of food from the life you live.

This food, which may well be subtle and difficult to encounter at first, is a food composed of impressions which is connected to the act of attention, the act of intention, and the inflow of air into your body, both inside and out. In other words, the work you -- and I, and we -- are attempting to undertake involves an increase in understanding the sensitivity of the body. It involves learning to discriminate between coarse impressions and finer ones. It involves knowing that your inner parts can take in impressions of a very different order than the ones that your outer parts can.

Now, it may be that you don't have any experience of this -- aside, perhaps, from some memorable psychedelic experience that you had as a youth. Nonetheless, you believe that a greater sensitivity is possible. Perhaps you have even tasted it on rare occasions.

That being said, you now assume that the taste itself is rare, and that it will always be rare, or even unattainable.

Mr. Gurdjieff said that no effort is ever in vain. If you work, if you deepen your work and look within yourself seriously--not just as a hobby, but as if your life itself depended on it--nothing needs to be rare or unattainable. Everything that we need is available. You are breathing what you need in and out at this very moment. The difficulty is that you are not acquiring it. That can definitely be changed with work. So if you feel that your work falls short, or you don't have enough marvelous experiences, or that nothing will ever actually happen, don't pay attention to that.

Just work.

As you work, don't just look upwards. Look downwards towards those roots from which your plant grows. Seek yourself in the cracks between yourself, in the dark and silent places where your Being arises as blood pulses and cells feed themselves.

Every growing thing that reaches for light first draws its sustenance from the hidden places where water flows.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

True rootedness of being

The intellectual mind believes that it can apply a top-down approach to the development of awareness.

According to this idea, we use our minds to point ourselves at "targets of awareness," as defined by cosmologies, ideas, and beliefs, and achieve something. Most religions function this way; and most intellectually constructed conceptual approaches to spirituality end up using this technique. That includes ones such as Zen, which--in an exquisite irony--claims outright that the approach itself is invalid.

The concept, of course, fundamentally violates one of Gurdjieff's primary principles: "man cannot do."

For all its sophistication, the base line of the Gurdjieff work, however, steps into to the very same bear trap. This is especially true of work modeled on the earlier teachings of Gurdjieff, as transmitted through Orage and Ouspensky. Despite the rather different methodologies G evolved later in his teachings, it's not all roses now, either. Generally speaking, efforts aimed primarily at attention, intentionality, and the development of will--which presumably involve a faculty "above", or superior to, that of the ordinary mind--also fall victim to absorbtion by the mind.

It's quite a dilemma. How can we circumvent the mind's habit of seizing every opportunity to interpret and run the show?

Anything that comes from the intellectual mind will belong to the intellectual mind. Evidently, we need to recruit a new kind of conscious force to our efforts.

We need to begin to discover an effort that is born from the bottom up-- an effort that originates not in the mind as we currently, and usually, know it, but in the organism itself. I have referred to this quite often as the organic sense of being, but in this case we'll try a different phrase, that is, true rootedness of being.

I use the word "rootedness" because of a personal observation I have made about the nature of consciousness itself.

We recently examined the idea that consciousness is a force which finds itself in association with the vessel of the body. This force of consciousness is not ultimately dependent on the body: it arises independent of it and then inhabits it. It is invested in it; clothed in it. Our mental identification with the organism itself convinces us that the body is the source of the arising of consciousness but, as I pointed out in the earlier posting, consciousness ultimately arises as a consequence of quantum interaction itself.

Consciousness, in other words, is not limited to the body. It is a fundamental property of the universe rooted in the body. There are several different ways of understanding this, no one of which appears to me to be entirely accurate.

One way is to understand that consciousness "extends" into the body from what we would call "another level." It is attached to the body by many billions of tiny rootlets, so completely individuated that one might say there is a rootlet attached to each cell (which may well be the case.) That's a "top down" view which retains an essential validity.

A second way of understanding this is the "bottom up" view: consciousness "arises" from the action of the quantum, atomic, molecular and ultimately cellular nature of the body itself. This view, which is strictly reductionist in nature, presumes that consciousness is entirely dependent on the physical constructions (bodies) which manifest it. The viewpoint is what we would call an emergent one, in the sense that consciousness at its so-called "higher" levels (such as human awareness) "emerges" more or less out of nowhere from the aggregate actions of the support structure.

This second viewpoint does not of necessity admit of a possibility for the de facto existence of an irreducible "unit" of consciousness from which the aggregate emerges, even though it seems clear enough there has to be one.

Either way one wants to view this question, the fact is that Being is rooted within the organism. Unfortunately, the parts of man that can sense the rootedness of Being are, for all intents and purposes, completely atrophied.

In seeking for a deeper understanding of our true nature, it's necessary to move beyond the psychological, beyond the intellectual, in a direction not even visceral, but which is the basis of the visceral: this, in the hopes of awakening the parts of ourselves that have a direct sensation of the roots of Being.

This involves taking a much more precise approach to the examination of the inner state. We must become very specific indeed in our inner investigation of the construction of the inner organism, what its parts are, and how they are related (or not related.) This examination needs to be conducted on a regular basis with the assistance of attention, and the breathing.

The awakening of a sense of the rootedness of Being can support inner work from the ground up, which brings me to another point.

We often find that we are 'dry' when it comes to what we call wish. That is to say, our mind, our current state of being, finds little of interest to motivate it to participate in a search within the present moment. Experience usually proves that no amount of intellectual leverage or intent can improve this situation much. It's something like trying to push a car forward when there's no gas in it. Safe to say we've all been there, in an inner sense.

In order for our wish to become more active, it needs to awaken, to become more alive--and this can only take place if the other minds within the body begin to actively participate in work effort.
In this way, parts of us other than the intellectual mind contribute to wish. When this takes place, a new interest level in our inner nature arises by default-- it emerges from the aggregate experience of the parts, in the same way that our consciousness arises from the aggregate experience of the parts. Because the origin of the wish now corresponds to the rooted and emergent property of consciousness itself, it has aligned itself with the conscious effort. In alignment, a great deal more becomes possible.

This is all a rather elaborate way of saying that the promotion of inner unity is central to our understanding of aim, wish, and effort. But the understanding that we need to seek carefully within the interstices of our physical being for the physical roots of our awareness may be of conceptual help.

If we are looking for joy--for bliss--for satisfaction, for understanding, or for any other life-force that can feed our effort--it all begins deep down below, at this root of the lotus.

It's this investment in the rootedness of Being that life begins. As Paul said,
"For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." (2 Corinthians 5.4)

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Biology and body-sensation

After nearly 2 years of steady reading, I have finally completed Dogen's Shobogenzo. This immense compendium of Buddhist thought seems to me to have no counterpart; Dogen has plumbed the depths of his practice in ways that ultimately defy efforts at conventional analysis.

To call Dogen's material difficult or demanding would be pointless; no matter how deep the ocean, as soon as the water is over your head, you have to swim.

Dogen asks us to swim, to discover the waters within us that feed our work, which have limitless depths and limitless breadth. He calls on us to continually rediscover a work that is without limitations, without presumptions, without definitions.

One of the phrases that haunts me from this staggering piece of work is, "we have acquired these bodies difficult to acquire."

Let's admit it to ourselves, no one thinks of their body this way. Who thinks their body was difficult to acquire? As far as we can tell, here we are. We just ended up here. No effort whatsoever seems to have been made on our part.

Dogen's remark pulls the rug out from under those assumptions. From his perspective, just ending up here within this struggling aggregate of cells already required a special kind of effort. We don't need to argue about whether this implies that we were reincarnated or not; all we need to understand for the time being is that he is asking us to respect the condition we find ourselves in. He is asking us to respect our biology; respect the fact that we are part of the planet (see quotes from yesterday;) respect our organism.

The idea of respect for our organism seems novel in a day and age where the organism is just about taken for granted. Outside of the select community of athletes, dancers, and practitioners of tai chi, judo, and so on, no one respects their organism very much until it breaks down. The routine is to abuse the organism, by taking drugs, drinking alcohol,engaging in silly stunts that damage it, injecting it with steroids, and so on. Few seem to suspect that this body we live in can be an enormous ally in the effort to deepen our inner work.

There are understandings from medieval practices (mortification of the flesh) and yoga practices (the way of the fakir) that suggest the body may be part of the path. Unfortunately, these practices suggest that harming the body, denying the body, causing it pain and literal suffering, are the way towards wholeness. That may well produce something, but -- as Mr. Gurdjieff advised Ouspensky -- it is a stupid something.

We need to work with more intelligence than that if we want to advance at anything better than a snail's pace.

Respect for the body involves taking a more nurturing attitude towards it, cultivating a relationship with sensation, and discovering what this delicate and extraordinary machine can do for us if we help it to get the right kind of food. As we do this, at every step and in every moment, we begin to understand that we are dealing with a temporary situation. The body is mortal. It will die. Hence the Dogen's admonition to "practice as though extinguishing flames from around the head."

We don't have that much time. One of our collective delusions is in believing that there is always more time. There isn't. We have just so much time to complete the work that is necessary in this body.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Manipulation versus transformation

Yesterday I listened briefly to a talk by Pema Chodron available through Shambhala publications on the "use" of Buddhist practice in surmounting emotional deficits such as anger.

Generally speaking I like her approach and what she says; it appears to be of real value. Yet I fear that she, like many other teachers, helps to support and disseminate a fundamentally mistaken idea about inner work: that is, the idea that inner work somehow applies to the "correction" of what we confront in ordinary life, that it can "fix" what is wrong with us. I routinely encounter the same things in church when I listen to sermons.

Because every form presents its ideas in a tangible manner, interpretable by the ordinary mind, we presume that we are able to grasp the form. One of the fundamental ironies here, perhaps, is that of all the religious disciplines, Buddhism takes the lead in insiisting that form cannot be properly grasped with the mind--yet in this recording I listened to, Pema presents Buddhists ideas, within form, as graspable.

For myself (and I'll admit it just about sticks in my craw saying this) I think I prefer the worn-out old Gurdjieff adage that "we cannot know anything."

Even worse, as we present things within form and make them graspable, we actually begin to believe that they make life manipulable. This delusion that we can somehow manipulate life pervades everything that we do. To manipulate life is the same as the Buddhist "grasping-" the absolute opposite of acceptance, which has been the subject over the past few days. It ultimately reduces inner work to an exercise in psychology, an egregious error that makes itself comfortable in every spiritual discipline, and in every devotee, no matter how sincere. The mind invite this kind of interpretation, because it suits the mind is so well. Hence the famous line from The Cloud of Unknowing: "you cannot know God with the mind."

The ideas within Buddhism, as the ideas within Christianity, Sufism, Hinduism, and so on are all aimed not at the manipulation of ordinary life, but the establishment of inner unity. That is the primary objective; anything less than that puts the cart before the horse. The way that inner unity may affect life after it arrives is a different question, and one that does not need to be addressed by the seeker. In fact, it is better to leave ordinary life alone, in a certain sense, and apply oneself to the search without concern for how it affects ordinary life.

Using the ideas to fix what we are is pointless. That has been tried by organized formal religion for thousands of years, and it's conclusively obvious from the results that it never, never works.

As we are--and we are all "like this," that is, without inner unity (I suspect even Pema Chodron would admit that her practice falls short of "enlightenment")--we are fundamentally unable to conceive of what unity consists of.

Let's take a look at a quote from Dogen, taken from the Shobogenzo, Nishijima and Cross translation, Dogen Sangha press, volume 4, Chapter 91, found on page 189.

"The Buddha-Dharma cannot be known by people. For this reason, since ancient times, no common man has realized the Buddha-Dharma and no-one in the two vehicles has mastered the Buddha-Dharma. Because it is realized only by Buddhas, we say that "Buddhas alone, together with buddhas, are directly able to perfectly realize it." When we perfectly realize it, while still as we are, we would never have thought previously that realization would be like this. Even though we had imagined it, it is not a realization that is compatible with that imagining. Realization in itself is nothing like we imagined. That being so, to imagine it beforehand is not useful. When we have attained a realization, we do not know what the reasons were for our being in a state of realization. Let us reflect on this. To have thought, prior to realization, that it will be like this or like that, was not useful for realization."

This is a fancy way of saying that everything we think we know about enlightenment is wrong.
Conjecture that begins from here and tries to lead us there may be a false path.

We should consider this carefully as we carefully inspect the inner state and the state of our unity itself.

Gurdjieff made it clear: all inner work is about transformation, that is, the re-creation of the inner man in a new image. This involves, according to him, the creation of higher Being-bodies, that is, first, the nativity and growth of the astral body, which is a body connected to man's planetary nature.

This has to do with the growth of something within a man that comes from a different level -- that is, as I have said before, it is alien to what we are. It is as different as a butterfly is from a caterpillar. The metaphor may be overused, but a creature that crawls on leaves and eats them cannot be reasonably compared to a creature that flies through the air and drinks nectar. The caterpillar knows nothing about being a butterfly. In fact, it has to die to what it is in order to be something new.

Lest we think that Pema's Buddhism somehow aims at something different, let's return once again to Dogen (same chapter, page 191:)

"An eternal Buddha said:

The whole earth is the real human body,
The whole earth is the gate of liberation,
The whole earth is the one Vairocana,
The whole earth is our own Dharma body.

The point here is that the real is the real body. We should recognize that the whole earth is not our imaginations; it is the body which is real."

On page 193, he goes on to elaborate:

"How, then, are we to understand that this state of Buddha is the same as us? To begin with, we should understand the action of Buddha. The action of Buddha takes place in unison with the whole earth and takes place together with all living beings. If it does not include all, it is never the action of Buddha. Therefore, from the establishment of the mind until the attainment of realization, both realization and practice are inevitably done together with the whole earth and together with all living beings."

This fundamental call to an understanding of unity acquired through the growth of the astral body -- that is, the body connected to the welfare of the planet, rather than the welfare of the limited, ordinary self --is the fundamental point of esotericism. Once again, as in so many other instances, I think we see that Gurdjieff's practice and Dogen's practice display an unerring consistency at the heart of the matter.

That unerring consistency is a consistency in understanding the need for the cultivation and transformation of a man's inner qualities, not his outer ones.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A temporary respite

Today is a day of saturation; of magnetism; of inhalation.

I'm going to take a break and resume with a new post tomorrow.

regards to all.

Friday, February 22, 2008

acceptance, engagement, withdrawal

We've visited the subject of accepting conditions on a number of occasions.

This practice involves awakening to the active exploration of our immediate environment, our inner and outer circumstances, in what is called an impartial manner: that is, according to what Gurdjieff's Beelzebub would call "sane being mentation," or, "objectivity."

All in all, it means that we make the effort to meet the present moment without identification, without attachment, without a set of egoistic opinions and assumptions that stem almost entirely from personality. That's a tall order, perhaps, and yet a new understanding of inner order--inner unity, the wholeness of the inner enneagram--may help take us in that direction.

Accepting conditions does not mean passivity. It does not mean stepping back and just letting everything be. If we accept conditions, we are invested in conditions; clothed in them, inhabiting them. It means we implicitly acknowledge things, now, as they are: not coloring them, but rather allowing them their own color, which is the vibrant color of life itself: the color not of our interpretation, but the color of the dharma.

This is a color that has no cast, or tone, or hue; it is the color of light itself, which contains all colors, just as the essence of each moment secretly carries within it the entire truth of the universe: manifest, whole, and undivided. The fact that we are, in our current "unenlightened" state, unaware of that does not change it.

The true nature of things cannot be separated from itself by ignorance.

Here we find acceptance-practice, as opposed to acceptance-concept. Acceptance-concept is intellectual and psychological; acceptance-practice is emotional and physical. I say emotional because it requires us to suffer the conditions emotionally; physical because it involves sensing the rooted nature of mind-in-body, and using the inner gravity of physical sensation to ground the Being in the reality of what is taking place now.

There aren't any prepackaged responses in acceptance-practice. Far from allowing us to sit in the back seat as mere observers, efforts at acceptance may well thrust us into the moment when real courage and decisive action is required. Acceptance doesn't mean bowing to abuse, or ignoring inequity or evil. In acceptance, every Christian heart needs to be tempered with a bit of Roman iron.

Acceptance relieves us of no requirements, removes no obligations; rather, it calls on us to deepen our sense of responsibility to our lives and ourselves. After all, in every tradition, the universe (as embodied in personages, God, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed, etc.) is not seen as calling on us to sit around doing nothing. In every case, there is a need to act, to manifest Being within the context of engagement. It's in the relationship of action to action and in interaction that the presence of God is made manifest. Not through an artificial repose. Hence Dogen's emphasis on the reality of cause and effect.

This is true from the ground up: the physical world is built of relationships made manifest, starting at the quantum level. Are we arguing that the practice of acceptance has something to do with that? ...We don't need to argue: yes, it does. Every single manifestation within the known universe is a functional subset of quantum interaction: all of it arises because of choices that are made at the root of reality.

This brings us back to questions of earlier postings: the nunnery, the hermit, and a point I want to make about them.

The traditional model of withdrawal, of disengagement from the ordinary world, which over centuries has been repeatedly literalized into a practice of retreating, even of renouncing the world and sitting in caves or cells, is a fundamental misinterpretation of what disengagement means.

It is an inner withdrawal that is called for, a detachment from the allure of the outer senses, which must be practiced within the context of ordinary life.

What do I mean by that? Isn't it necessary to actually, physically withdraw, to literally renounce all the sensory pleasures of life, if I want to practice non-attachment?

...Isn't it my outward behavior that determines and feeds the level of my spiritual state?

I recall a good friend of mine who once told me that she wanted to get rid of all her things in order to practice non-attachment. I had to patiently explain to her that it doesn't work that way; you have to keep all the things if you want to practice non-attachment to them, because if there aren't any things, there isn't any practice.

All you've done in that case is put yourself under artificial conditions of deprivation to imitate a state of non-attachment.

In the same way, a literal practice of withdrawal--physically hiding in caves or cells-- only imitates the inner withdrawal that is necessary in order to begin to see the distinction between the inner and outer sensory apparatus, and the inner and outer awarenesses within one's Being.

Think about it: does going on a spiritual retreat sound like a way to advance?

The "spiritual retreat" must become an active part of everyday life, and the retreat must be not a physical one named as spiritual, but a spiritual one conducted as physical. In this practice the force of our Being, what we breathe in through our life--within acceptance--is contained, held back, conserved. (This idea is connected with with what yogis call pranayama.)

The power of Gurdjieff's "Fourth Way" is the power of acceptance: the power of acting within life, of not trying to artificially escape the conditions, manipulate the conditions, or re-create the conditions that man finds himself within, but to accept the conditions in an active manner. Acceptance, in Gurdjieff's world, does not mean letting all remain as it is, or being passive in the face of life; it means engagement.

In this regard I will always recall one particular image of Jeanne de Salzmann at a January 13 celebration many years ago: spontaneous, fiery; enthusiastically keeping time with the music being played, both arms waving in the air like a dervish : in one word, living.

There was nothing passive in her there, in that accepted moment; instead, what instantly came across was her ability to live wholly, fully, directly from the heart.

For those who are interested, try Heart Without Measure, by Ravi Ravindra, available through By The Way books-- a moving report of his personal experiences with Mme De Salzmann.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

comfort levels

It's inevitable that every single one of us, as we pursue our lives and make the effort to become more aware (and consequently more human) will run into the conflicts, frustrations, and negativities that ordinary life puts in front of us.

In my experience, seeking escape from the actual conditions of the ordinary is pointless. I tried it with drugs and alcohol, and it didn't work. Sobriety, of course, didn't lessen the demands any: instead, they became greater. No matter where I go and what I do, life keeps battering me in unexpected ways.

Nor, in my experience, does affecting, cultivating, or even actually discovering a rapturous inner aloofness makes sense either. I've watched others try to pull this off by adoption, and it almost invariably collapses when it collides with reality. As to the discovering- well, I had a set of extraordinary experiences some years ago, but ultimately determined that wallowing in a cloud of inner bliss isn't the answer either. I intentionally renounced that particular set of conditions because it appeared to me that more is required.

Not sure about the rest of you, but I didn't get born here--"acquire this body difficult to acquire," as Dogen would put it--in order to sit on my ass feeling marvelous about anything, and next-to-nothing, 24/7.

In my own experience, and by my choice, I see it is necessary to ruthlessly (that is, without rue) confront the realities of my existence and engage with them. That is--once again, in the words of Dogen-- "to practice as though extinguishing flames from around my head."

As his imagery so graphically suggests, this is anything but comfortable. I am required to take both my inner and my outer resources and bring them together at a point in front of me where things may not be going well at all. At such an instant, I see, it is likely that my outer senses, my outer resources, my habits, reactions, ego, and opinions are already dominating--or at any rate want to. The trick is to bring something else to that moment as well, so that there is more of a balance.

The inner senses can be present in such a moment, and not be negative at all. They are forced at that time to confront the reality of what the outer senses create in us, and the friction between these two states may wake me up. At a minimum, if this happens, I actually see that I have two natures, and I see how they are at direct odds with one another.

Achieving a better inner connection and achieving a state in which there is regular support from a part of myself which draws water from a different well does not in any way excuse me from the ordinary conditions of life, nor does it cure me of what I am. If anything, it requires me to meet life with at least as much force as I did before, but with the addition of a substance--

called conscience.

This substance is, according to Gurdjieff, the one part of man's psyche that, having been submerged beneath the thick layer of his so-called "conscious" personality, is still relatively intact. Despite all the damage done by lives dwelling in dissolution across generations, he maintains, there is this one part inside man that is still relatively whole and healthy.

Conscience can change the way we express ourselves and how we react to other people: maybe not much, but certainly enough to make a difference. It calls on us to act in the interests of the situation and the other people, not just our own interests. It requires us to use our force.

When one looks at spiritual teachers like Gurdjieff, who did things that appeared to be at best peculiar, and sometimes controversial, distressing, or even abusive, one begins to suspect that he was acting from conscience. He was aware enough to know that what a person wanted done for them was not what was good for them, in the sense that what they wanted was likely to impede their growth, rather than foster it.

We are all in that position in regard to ourselves and our own inner work. If, in such a moment, we actually see a relationship between our inner nature and our outer nature, and we see that there's a division, we will often see that what needs to be done is something "we" do not want.

We do not want it because it contradicts our outer nature, which we have been invested in so thoroughly, for so long, that we have forgotten our inner nature: as Gurdjieff says, we have "forgotten ourselves."

It is only when we begin to make the choice to contradict our outer nature -- that is, as Gurdjieff advised us, to go against what "it" wants, to go against habit --of our own volition that we begin to understand that we cannot wait for someone else to tell us what to do.

Our work begins here, now, in front of us, in ordinary life, not in an idealized set of conditions where things are arranged so that we can be mellow, calm, and groovy.

Moments may not call for serenity--they may not call for a laid-back approach or a forgiving, laissez-faire attitude. They do not call for a manufactured spirituality, based on supposition and imitation, which so many bring to life. No matter how impressive they may be, such faux-enlightened attitudes are ultimately the manifestations of sheep.

Life in action, life taken "directly from the heart," so to speak, calls for a new kind of involvement. It may well be involvement in a way that makes us uncomfortable, that makes everyone uncomfortable, simply in the interests of helping us all to meet a little more friction, be a little more awake. A life approached and engaged in this way may be crude, it may be gritty, and it certainly won't be pretty. But it's the discomfort that matters.

Being "comfortable" does not help us learn or change. All it does is teach us to be complacent and lazy.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sobriety and purpose

This rather cryptic photograph is an underground chamber at the ruined nunnery of the Capuchins in Antigua.

The nunnery dates from the 18th century. Today it is a picturesque ruin with charming gardens and--where there were once thick walls, cramped cells, and oppresive ceilings--open spaces that admit air and sunlight in abundance.

All is not air and light, however. Tantalizing hints of a different past remain. Hidden within the labyrinth of walls and flowers one comes across passages that lead downward into womblike darkness.

This photograph is where one of them ends.

No one knows precisely what the circular crypt was used for; speculation ranges from storage to more morbidly fanciful ideas such as arcane punishments, or even torture. The chamber is located directly underneath the cells that nuns lived in while in isolation, in a structure referred to as the tower. Conjecture that it may have been used as a storage room seems foolish to me. Someone went to an awful lot of trouble to build this circular structure; there are much easier ways of creating storage rooms. There is an impression of a more than casual intention behind it.

When Neal and I first entered the room, I was instantly struck by an otherworldly sense that work had been done here; work of a very serious and intimately sacred nature. Right away, it seemed clear to me that the room was designed so that one might walk in circles. To add to that, the acoustic properties were nothing short of extraordinary. The slightest tone uttered within the confines of this room hangs in the air for what seems to be an eternity. (The only other room with acoustic properties approaching it that I have ever been in is the King's chamber in the great pyramid in Giza.)

I came away from the space with an impression of nuns circulating, chanting and mouthing muted hymns, with the sounds of their prayer filtering upward into the tiny, lonely cells of the nuns above them.

Maybe it wasn't that way--we'll never know.

But if it wasn't, it should have been.

Now, as to the nuns. Gurdjieff certainly roundly disparaged the idea of shutting oneself into a cell in order to attain spiritual wholeness, and of course, to our modern minds, the idea seems totally absurd. When Dogen vigorously extolled the virtues of "leaving family life," i.e. becoming a monk, it seems equally unlikely he had anything quite like this in mind. Yet, to be sure, the two men were quite different. Gurdjieff urged us to work within ordinary life -- an approach many of us definitely endorse-- and Dogen urged men to withdraw from it, knowing that it is all too easy to get lost within the attractions of life.

Yes, to inhabit our ordinary life seems to be the correct path: today, the idea of monks and nuns, of withdrawing from life in order to find the true meaning of life, seems antiquated and bizarre.
We live, after all, in a seething new-age sea of work-in-life, where colorful yoga ads hammer us by the dozen from the shelves of organic food stores, and every weekend retreat offers the possibility of attaining spiritual wholeness, as though it was only one throw into the end zone away.

Different worlds, different times.

When one sees the tiny cells that the nuns used to live in, one can't help but be touched by the single-mindedness of purpose that led these women to the nunnery. Now, of course, it's true there were those who ended up in these places through no wish of their own. But for those who came intentionally, their purpose was deadly serious, and their aim was a more powerful force in their life than anything most of us know.

After all, what are we willing to pay? How seriously do we take our work?

How many people would be willing to spend most of their lives in a tiny room in order to achieve their aim of spiritual unity? All in favor, raise your hands now.

I'm not sure that any of us see that we already do this, only involuntarily. Today, in what must be the quintessential age of selfishness, we carry our prisons around inside us. We construct a little tiny cell for ourselves with ego and personality, and we live in it for most of our lives: frivolously, carelessly, often the grasshopper and rarely the ant. Not only that, we inhabit these little cells called bodies, and that on a very temporary--yet generally ignored--basis.

So for those who sealed themselves up in order to contemplate, meditate, and pray, perhaps the sacrifice did not seem so great after all.

Going into a monastery or a nunnery requires a special kind of sobriety. Within it lies the implicit understanding that we are supremely mortal, that a very great deal is at stake, and that almost anything is worth sacrificing in order to align properly with forces greater than ourselves. Rather than scoff at the way these people lived, I stand in awe of their commitment.

One other note. This morning, I was sitting in the employee cafeteria when our resident spiritual guru -- Annie Carmine, who at 62 years old is probably one of the most fully realized Christian souls I have ever met in my life-- walked in to get coffee.

Being in one of those pensive, pondering, questioning moods that I so often find myself in, even in casual moments, I asked her what it meant when it was said that Jesus Christ was a "man well acquainted with sorrows."

Annie is a teacher. She never misses a beat, and somehow she always manages to drive the nail directly into the wood with one blow. Without hesitating for a moment, she affirmed to me that Jesus was "well acquainted with sorrows" because within his willing act of incarnation -- the full, unreserved, and wholehearted inhabitation of our humanity -- he knew everything of us, all our passions, all our woes, and yes-- in the end -- he knew of our pain, our humiliation, our suffering, and our death.

Only through knowing all this was he able to understand fully the position we are in, and bring the help we need.

We might say that Jesus was God's way of saying "I am with you all the way."

To the death.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.