Sunday, November 25, 2007

Spring Ice, and circulation

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff blog. To mark the moment, I am offering what amounts to a double-posting today

Spring Ice

On page 86 of "In Search of the miraculous," Gurdjieff tells Ouspensky,

"The ray of creation establishes seven planes in the world, seven worlds within one another."

What this means relates directly to the fractal universe depicted within the Enneagram. All of the different levels of the universe exist simultaneously, together, at the same place -- which is everywhere. That is to say, even the highest level of the universe is right here, right now. We are part of what makes it up. It is part of what makes us up.

So there is no need to go "out there" to search for the divine. Higher energy doesn't come from "outside" us to enlighten us. All of it is right here, right now. It is simply a matter of which rate of vibration the organism--the body-mind, or, if you will, the bodhi-mind-- is attuned to that determines what it can and cannot sense.

This is strikingly consonant with the Zen Buddhist concept that the Dharma is always and everywhere. Enlightenment is no more than the blow of a Master's cane away. In fact, it is already here. The dilemma we find ourselves in, which is that we do not experience enlightenment, does not mean it is not there. It is always here, everywhere.

We encounter this idea over and over again in Dogen's Shobogenzo. The ubiquity of the Dharma, the absolute and unerring penetration of the truth into every level, every atom, molecule, and quanta, is undeniable and immediate. It is our own lack, as Jeanne deSalzmann would have put it, that prevents us from experiencing this. And it is only a total, frank, abject and absolute suffering of this fact of separation that can begin to lead us towards a greater inner unity.

Of course there are techniques. We have cosmologies and understandings to help guide us, but we are all traveling towards a continent as unknown as the meaning of life itself.

In the aforementioned passage, Gurdjieff goes on to describe the difference between matter and materiality.

"People are accustomed to think that matter is everywhere the same. The whole of physics, of astrophysics, of chemistry... are based on this assumption. And it is true that matter is the same, but materiality is different. And different degrees of materiality depend directly on the qualities and properties of the energy manifested at a given point." (italics mine.)

Of course, materiality is determined by rate of vibration. A simple example is water. At the lowest temperatures found on Earth, it is ice, a solid. At what we call "ordinary" temperatures, that is prevailing temperatures on the surface of the planet, the majority of it is a liquid; when temperature rises more, it becomes a gas. Superheated gases are, in physics, called plasmas, and if enough temperature and pressure is attained in a plasma, such as the Sun, it goes supernova, engaging in an unparalleled act of creation.

Gurdjieff tore a page directly out of the textbook of natural sciences in explaining that our inner states are no different. It takes heat -- the heat of an inner solar system-- to raise our inner rate of vibration and lift us from a solid into a liquid, and then ultimately a gaseous state.

Dogen also touches on the question of matter, energy, and materiality. In book 4 of his Shobogenzo, (Nishijima and Cross Transalation, Dogen Sangha press, 1999) chapter 73, page 11, we find him commenting as follows on the five powers:

"Wisdom as a power is of deep and long years, and is like a ferry coming to a crossing. For this reason, it was described in ancient times as "like a crossing getting a ferry." The point is that a crossing is inevitably just the fact of the ferry. A crossing not being hindered by a crossing is called a ferry. Spring ice naturally melts ice itself."

This passage follows on and relates to the five root faculties, but we won't get into that just now. What relates this passage to our current discussion is that we see one of the essential ideas of Zen revealed in parable: force and matter are inseparable, and together give rise to materiality.

In Zen, action itself is seen as the materiality. In the Gurdjieff work, that is called third, or reconciling, force.

Here we see that spring, the action of a season which increases temperature, encounters solidity, ice, and melts it. Spring ice is one thing, but within it it contains both "spring," force, which is transformational, and ice, matter, which can be transformed.

Spring ice
can thus be likened to a quantum state: an undecided combination of momentum and position. Force/momentum and matter/position together resolve to become materiality, in this instance, a materiality that undergoes transformation into water through the de facto, eternal and inseparable union of the two properties.

To me, this echoes in a weird and beautiful way what physicists call the collapse of the quantum state, which gives rise to materiality, or, what we call reality.

Thanks for bearing with me through that one. I know it seems rather theoretical, but there are times when we should take a look at theory.


Because today is the one-year anniversary, I want to offer something specific and personal from my own work. I have been working on this for about a year now, and alluded to some things related to it here, but today I will attempt to pass it on in a form which may prove useful to others. Those of you not intimately familiar with the Gurdjieff work are requested to excuse the fact that this is going to delve into some relatively esoteric territory.

A week ago, while working with some other Foundation members, a discussion took place about the circulation of energy in the body, in particular the relationship of Qi gong understandings to the understandings of the Gurdjieff work.

The conventional understanding in most systems is that energy circulates in the body from the top of the head to the base of the spine, and then up the front of the body to the top of the head again. It is known that the reverse can also be true.

In relating the system of the Chakras and the Enneagram to this question, a close inner study will establish, as I pointed out in the essay, that this is a deceptively simplified examination of the question.

It is possible for energy to circulate in many ways, that is true. However, in the same manner that centers can take from each other in a wrong way (as Gurdjieff explained at length) it is also possible for energy to circulate in manners that produce spectacular "special effects," but fail to help it evolve in a lawful context. This is what happens when you make your chicken soup by having the chicken run through a kitchen with boiling water on the stove. (Read the chapter in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson entitled "Beelzebub in America.")

The reason that Gurdjieff passed on the Enneagram was to give us a tool to understand this question in accurate detail.

The first major point is that energy from the top of the head is distinct from the other energies we study in circulation. This should be clearly understood through specific inner study. The circulation that man is responsible for, which relates to the multiplications, is all preparatory in nature. If he prepares himself sufficiently, the energy from the top of the head can be useful. It is of little or no use in raising the rate of vibration if it is poured into a container that is not properly sealed.

The study of the multiplications and our inner circulation is a method of helping the vessel to become intact, so that this energy from the top of the head--should it arrive--does not go to waste.

In studying the inner circulation of energy, it can be established that every iteration of the multiplications in the Enneagram consists of two triads. Each triad forms a stable relationship of its own for the first or the second half of the multiplication in question. Each of these triads needs to be created within a man and studied from within the state in order to understand the relationship that arises and the stability that results.

I could discuss the first multiplication, but let us take a different example, since it relates directly to the question of energy circulating down the back and up the front of the body.

In the fifth multiplication, we find the numerical sequence 714285.

The first triad, 714, involves movement of the energy from the top of the spine (NOT the top of the head) to the base of the spine down the back of the body. The energy, however, does not stop there. Every iteration of energy circulation is incomplete if all it does is move from one point to another. Third force must come in. That is to say, there must be affirming, denying, and reconciling factors in the inner relationship of the three flowers one is studying.

In this instance, energy moving from the top of the spine (throat) to the bottom of the spine (root) must then move into the solar plexus, or abdominal region. The relationship of these three flowers forms a stable triad.

This stable triad is the precursor to the second one, which moves from two (sex center) to eight (third eye,) a classic relationship well understood in yoga schools and even represented in some of the movements Gurdjieff taught.

This is the energy that moves up the front of the body, but once it travels up the front, it is not done. It must find its reconciling point in the flower at the center of the spine, referred to as the heart.

A careful study of inner triads will bear much fruit. Is this practice, possibly, what Gurdjieff was alluding to when he referred to bringing one's self into a state that was "three centers balanced?" Personally, I think it may be so.

The study of the circulation is undeniably interesting. However, we are left with the peculiar remark in the yoga that the ultimate aim is to stop the turning of the wheels. ...what is that all about?

There are hints contained within the study of the inner triads, the relationships between the flowers in their sets of three. Out of this study may grow a greater interest in how all the energy within the system can be present simultaneously, so that instead of sensing the circulation of energy, we live within the direct experience of energy.

The experience of point-to-point becomes the experience of a single point, a completion of the inner enneagram, which --as is lawful and inevitable--then becomes a single note in a much larger octave.

In this way we perhaps begin to understand the experience of consciousness as not being force/momentum, or matter/position, but rather a unity of materiality arising from the two.

This understanding, central to Dogen's conception of Zen, can be practically studied in a physical manner through a thorough scrutiny of our inner state.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The four abodes of Mindfulness

Today we're back to Dogen's Shobogenzo for additional fascinating parallels to understandings from the Gurdjieff work and other practices.

Today, as always, quotes are taken from Nishijima and Cross's translation as published by Dogen Sangha Press, 1999. Today's passages are from chapter 73, book 4, pgs 1-3, "Thirty-Seven Elements of Bodhi."

Dogen describes the four abodes of mindfulness as follows:

"The first is the reflection that the body is not pure. The second is the reflection that feeling is suffering. The third is the reflection that mind is without constancy. The fourth is the reflection that dharmas are without self."

Dogen speaks of body, feeling, and mind. The parallels to Gurdjieff are undeniable: Dogen is describing mindfulness as a three centered activity.

Notice, furthermore, that Dogen refers to the practices of mindfulness as abodes: that is, places of residence. He is advising us that the practice of mindfulness consists of inhabitation. I have tried to make this point many times. Dogen is smarter than me; he only needs to say it once.

Let's take a look at what he means by each of these abodes of mindfulness.

For Dogen, sitting zazen is the absolute foundation of mindful practice. So we are introduced here to the idea of a three centered practice in sitting.

We begin this effort to open ourselves by sitting in order to fully experience, in a three centered manner, the concepts that Dogen speaks about, to experience them not just with our mind as ideas, but with all of our parts, so that they saturate our body, penetrate our gut, and lift our thinking above the merry-go-round of association.

The first is the reflection that the body is not pure.

We find this idea in every major religion. In Hinduism and in yoga, we consistently encounter the idea that the body must be purified in order for higher energy to enter and act. In Christianity, man is seen as being born into original sin, that is, a state of impurity which must be cleansed by the Holy Spirit in order for men to receive God. In Islam, man's ordinary state must be purified by the burning power of God's love.

In his typical maverick manner, Gurdjieff described all this somewhat differently, by saying that men must see and sense their own nothingness. He also alluded to the fact that we must acquire an organic sense of shame.

Jeanne de Salzmann referred to it a bit differently; in her language, we needed to stay in front of our lack.

All of these statements are ways of issuing an invitation to participate in a process that is essentially wordless; as such, every description falls short.

This practice, in sitting, is to open the body to allow an energy that enters to show us how small we are, and how far short we fall.

We see where we are.
This is an organic experience that can be sought in sitting within the practice of connecting the centers. If it touches us, it is objective, not judgmental.

Dogen creates a beautiful allegory in this chapter by describing the way of purification as the method of washing a robe in water. This robe --the Kasaya, the sacred vestment of Buddhism--is the life which we inhabit.

Please read this very beautiful passage, if you can find a copy of the book, which has become rather scarce.

The second practice is the reflection that feeling is suffering.

Emotion consists of allowing. This is a new concept for us, because almost all of our emotional experience consists of reacting, that is, rejecting.

This emotional practice of rejection needs to be turned on its head in both an inner and outer sense.

During sitting, once again, we seek to open the centers to receive something higher. This force is the Holy Spirit-- nothing other than pure, unadulterated Love. If we suffer this Love to come unto us, it melts us in such a way that we truly understand what we are--in a way that no words can ever touch.

The esoteric meanings of the Enneagram and work with the six inner flowers are directly connected with this effort.

The third practice is the reflection that mind is without constancy.

We discussed this the other day in the context of turning, or associative, thought, and we have discussed it in some earlier posts over the past two weeks regarding non-attachment to thought. The essential form of this practice within sitting is to allow the mind to exist without being invested in it. As thoughts continually and inevitably arise, exist, and depart, we retain separation from them. Rather than adopting a pejorative attitude towards our habits and our mechanical nature, we exercise instead an intentional objectivity with regard to their existence.

Furthermore we begin to see that all the manifestations of what we call "mind" are temporary. "Mind" as we usually experience it is like the weather; it changes according to the temperature and pressure of life, and the energy available within the system that drives it.

Being as we seek to experience it is something apart from mind as we currently experience it. A three-centered practice in sitting can help us to become more available to this understanding.

The fourth abode of mindfulness is the reflection that dharmas are without self.

This is exactly what is contained within the statement "There is no "I", there is only truth," the first half of the teaching which concludes with "the way to the truth is through the heart."

As usual, it gets better...

Dogen immediately follows the description of the four abodes of mindfulness with a description of The Four Kinds of Right Restraint. (also called the four kinds of right exertion.)

"The first is to prevent bad that has not yet occurred. The second is caused to be extinguished bad that has already occurred. The third is to cause to occur good that has not yet occurred. The fourth is to promote the good that has already occurred."

Let us compare this to Gurdjieff's famous aphorism on right exertion:

"Use the present to repair the past and prepare the future."

Once again, we discover the deep roots, extending through time and space itself, that connect Dogen's Buddhism to Gurdjieff's Fourth Way.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

receiving life

Today I find myself once again firmly resident with this body, saturated with the definite and undeniable experience of life. Regardless of what else happens, I'm nailed down here, resident within my weight, consonant with my cells, vibrating with the heat and subtle energies that make up the work of the body.

The associative mind comes and goes within this enterprise. I may find myself "stuck" within it, or not-- does it really matter? I wonder. We are routinely identified with the associative mind, the intellectual part, that's true. But isn't there something more there?

We receive our life with more than the mind alone, don't we? What flows into the Being-body corresponds-- and co-responds- to the physical body, the emotional body (referring here to the physical structure of the emotional part) and the intellect. It's true, too, that what is received affects the sex center, the instinctive center, and probably the two higher centers as well, but for the time being let's just consider the three "basic" centers.

So Being receives life through multiple channels, or flowers. We may not be quite aware of that, although one aim, certainly, is to become more sensitive to the possibility. Instead we find ourselves dominated by the "turning thought" that associations produce.

Maybe it's possible to just ignore that part. Like tinnitus (a delightful malady I have been afflicted with for years now, undoubtedly due to listening to too much loud rock music as a youth) the thought from associative center can be tuned out.

The trick to it is to find something else inside us that's more interesting. And this is where what we call seeing becomes useful. If we are really making an effort to see within ourselves, we don't get as attracted to associative thought, because there is something more compelling engaging our interest. Yes, we will inevitably lose our attention, and come back to associative thought- which, gosh darn it, seems to be cruising along at its own speed regardless of whether we pay attention to it or not!--but for the time being we find that seeing how we are can occupy a significant part of the inner landscape.

So maybe we can give ourselves permission to stop worrying so much about how deficient we are in this area. Part of seeing ourselves is just accepting things like this as a fact and moving on. This underscores why Hui Neng said that it isn't thought that's the problem for us; it's our attachment to it. In the Platform Sutra, he actually recommends that we just let it go. In Buddhism, the idea of allowing thoughts to arise and depart objectively, without interference, and without attachment, is considered a high practice. I don't think they have this one wrong.

There is always something we can turn to if our work is alive in us. There is always food being received, support for the effort of Being offered. If we turn away from it, then we turn away--that does not mean it isn't there. Remember, Gurdjieff's system is one of the only ones that says man does not need to "develop" higher centers-- they are already there. It's a matter of establishing contact, of finding the relationship.

That may be a rather high calling for all of us. We can't presume to be perpetually poised on the brink of opening our higher centers and attaining enlightenment (although perhaps we are--anything is possible!)

We can presume that those higher parts of us are always reaching towards us, hoping for contact, offering us the possibility of opening the doors to receive the fullness of life in a deeper and more satisfying way. If we reach back by showing an interest--

well then.

Maybe nothing else in life really matters.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that a man who was an Obyvatel-- a "good householder"--one who simply attended with what one might call intelligent responsibility to the basic requirements his life-- was already ahead of the man who had grand spiritual aspirations.

Of course we find Chogyam Trungpa dealing, more or less, with the same idea--admittedly from a slightly less earthy point of view-- in his classic Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. And Dogen constantly exhorts his followers to turn to, and experience, the ordinary in their search for what is extraordinary.

Perhaps the message here is that there isn't anything extraordinary. Everything is ordinary, although much is unfamiliar. In this sense, there is no supernatural, because everything-even things that appear to violate the natural order--cannot exist outside the natural order.

Gurdjieff explained this by saying that things that appear to be "miraculous" are simply the manifestation of what he called higher laws, and the process and progress of science in the 20th century has supported his contention. Without exception, things that once appeared to be very mysterious, even almost magical, from a scientific point of view turn out to be entirely understandable once the meta-principles that govern them are revealed.

I'm not sure we have any reason to presume that our inner processes are different. There are many inner states things we may encounter that are, from our level's point of view, miraculous, which are nonetheless simply the expression of something higher. It may be mysterious to us, but in the context of the universe at large, it all fits in as neatly as any piece of the puzzle. This is why man constructs cosmologies -- the presumption is that there is a puzzle, and that all the pieces fit.

So what, exactly, is a good householder? We can be pretty sure, he is not attracted by or dominated by consideration of the extraordinary. He isn't trying to become an angel. He is trying to become a man--more to the point, a "man without quotation marks", the aim Gurdjieff said every man should set for himself.

One thing that strikes me is as follows: the difference between the good householder and the egoist is that the egoist puts the wish to achieve before the will to work. Because of this, glittering objects attract him and distract his aim. The good householder puts his will to work first; eyes on the task at hand, he is deaf to any allurement.

Having said all that, the original point of entitling this blog posting "housekeeping" was because the post has to be a bit short today, and I wanted to take care of two pieces of unfinished business.

First of all, several of you have written very supportive comments thanking me for the work that I do on this blog, and I want to say thank you in return.

This is an enterprise that we are all in together, this work called life -- and if we offer each other of the best food we can in our exchange, all of us benefit. I benefit as much from the effort to keep this record as anyone who reads it. So my gratitude goes out to each and every one of you who, as readers, participate together in the sharing of ideas and the effort that we all share together.

Every single one of us is connected to each other by the tendrils we extend.

Secondly, the blog is coming up on its first anniversary, which will take place Sunday, November 25. To date, it has logged over 3600 visitors from all over the world -- not bad, for an enterprise as obscure as this one.

I hope to mark the day with something ordinary. LOL.

Let's hope that all of us have many more years to share together in this enterprise we call inner Work.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What do we perceive with?

Everything is a matter of perception. That is to say, the entire inwardly formed world that arises in a man over the course of a lifetime is a function of what is taken in. (It might be useful to review the concept of the inner solar system in this regard.)

This question of our inward formation and how it proceeds came up over the weekend while I was working on sound edits of the Flinsch readings of Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson with our small but dedicated team.

Today I find myself pondering it from a different point of view.

What is it that perceives within us, and how does it perceive? Put in another way, what does the receiving apparatus consist of?

For me, the very idea instantly brings to mind a bit of doggerel in German from Beelzebub:

"Blödsinn, Blödsinn, du mein Vergnügen
Stumpfsinn, Stumpfsinn, du meine Lust."

The inference of the second line in this passage is that our ability to sense life is essentially blunted, and--perversely--that we prefer it that way.

In studying my own everyday life, and "knowing the difference," as it were, it seems a point well taken.

The body itself is an exquisite sensory apparatus, containing within it the ability to sense things we do not sense at all under ordinary conditions. In chapter 30 of Beelzebub, which I was sound editing over the weekend, Gurdjieff presents a long allegory describing the steady deterioration of man's sensory perceptions over the course of human history, until he can only see a tiny fraction of the rays of light he once saw, and only hear a fraction of the sounds he once heard. Considering the sensory abilities of even very common animals such as dogs, the tale is all too believable.

In order to develop a finer perception within life, we need to deepen the inner connections within the organism. The task in front of a man who wishes to become whole is to re-establish and complete the connections shown in the enneagram, in an inner sense.

This process begins with a careful, lifelong, and systematic inner study of our conditions.

Our body itself is the receiving apparatus--if we don't have a cultivated relationship with it, one that reawakens the organic connection between the physical self and the mental self, we cannot receive what is possible. Impressions cannot fall deeply enough into the body to do us any good unless the appropriate channels are open and active.

The reason that Dogen extolled the absolute virtues of Zazen was that it cultivates the necessary relationship. Speaking only for myself, I have no doubt that Jeanne deSalzmann introduced "sitting" (it's Zazen, folks) to the formal repertoire of Work practice precisely because of this. Her insistence on the primacy of developing an entirely new sensation of the body (referred to as "attaining the marrow" or "getting the bones of the master" in Zen) was another outgrowth of this specific understanding. We cannot receive higher food from incoming impressions unless this inner relationship changes.

However, do we perceive solely with the body? I think not.

The body is the receiving apparatus, but what engages in perception is the attention. That aware and awake part of us that is capable of mustering awareness. Attention to be understood as -a-tension, or, a lack of tension.

Something in us need to relax in order for channels to open and water to flow.

In approaching this, we may begin to see that the understanding of perception as being divided into individual senses (five or six, take your scientific or Buddhist pick) is a mistaken one. In the same sense that six flowers are one flower that connects one level to another- note do connecting to note do-, six senses are one sense.

In awakening our birthright of organic sense of being, we may discover that perception within life is an enterprise undertaken, and received, by the entire organism at any given moment, not just by what we refer to as the senses. The body/mind becomes a metasense, a sensory apparatus that is impartial, or undivided.

In the open way, we have the potential to live and perceive through all that we are, not just through the narrow gateways of the eyes, nose and ears. Our very cells themselves receive our life; we may become joyfully drenched, gratefully saturated, in this experience of life we dwell within.

And there in that place hangs the fruit that trees may bear, if wells yield water.

Much love to you all today.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Trespassing on sacred ground

Every so often an understanding arrives in us.

Understandings are not ideas. Today it strikes me that the difference between ideas and understandings is that understandings do not come from us; ideas do.

We think up ideas-- and, incidentally, ideas may be very clever indeed. They may even be correct, if we're lucky, or smart.

on the other hand, are received. They come from "somewhere else"-- understandings do not belong to "us," to the "ordinary" self, they are merely received by this self. Every once in a while an understanding, which is the property of a higher awareness we are not touched by very often, arrives. Hence the construction of the word: we see that we stand under something higher.

This type of seeing requires the activity of more than one center. With an understanding, we begin to organically, physically know our place--to see what level we are on, and its relationship to other levels.

I received an understanding this morning while sitting which I will attempt to describe.

The understanding is in regards to the relationship between Christ's teaching in the Lord's prayer-- "Forgive us our tresspasses"-- Gurdjieff's teachings on considering and identification, and Buddhism's understanding of non-attachment.

These three concepts are all aspects of one understanding.

Trespassing implies violation. One has entered where one should not have entered, and finds one's self in an inappropriate place. The dictionary defines it, among other things, as entering with an implied force of violence. That can lead into further, more esoteric understandings of trespassing in regard to inner states, which lie outside the scope of the present discussion.

Trespassing, as Christ presents it, is meant to be understood as an inner action. This inner action is the same action that Gurdjieff called identification. It is an action whereby identity--Being, thought, the inwardly formed self --becomes involved with inappropriate attitude.

In this instance, the "attitude" we speak of here is not specific, it's global. It is a universal misunderstanding that arises as a result of what Gurdjieff would have called Kundabuffer.

In engaging in this misunderstanding, our inner form becomes polluted by its contact with the outer world. In mistaking our self, our being, for the external events and objects that attract us, we have taken the sacred-- the organic sense and experience of identity, which springs directly from the root of Christ-consciousness itself, and is indeed sacred-- and brought it down to this level, whereby we tread on it.

We outwardly, actively try to own, to grasp and hold, this sacred receiving of the experience of our life, instead of participating in it from a position of inner repose. This is related to the post last week about the difference between Being's repeated attempts to construct Life instead of dwelling within life.

In The Platform Sutra, The sixth great Zen patriarch, Hui neng, expounds as follows:

"...since ancient times, this Dharma teaching of ours... has proclaimed 'no thought' as its doctrine,
'no form' as its body, and 'no attachment' as its foundation."

..."Thus, the reason we proclaim 'no thought' as our doctrine is because deluded people think in terms of objects, and on the basis of these thoughts they give rise to erroneous views."

I have not quoted the whole passage here, which is very meaty indeed; instead I recommend you buy yourself a copy of Red Pine's translation and commentary (click on the link) and read it yourself, on page 12.

Hui Neng perceives thought as an activity that must arise and proceed without attachment. Unsurprisingly like Dogen, he doesn't say we should not think- emptiness, utter silence, is not the aim.

Instead he says thought should not be "in bondage."

When thought attaches to the external, this is bondage. It is the trespass of awareness into form. This is an enslavement which we all live within, constantly. It's so ubiquitous we are unable to see it.

Take note! In Zen, as in other disciplines, it is not that there is no form. Dogen repeatedly reminds us that that is a mistaken understanding. It is rather the attachment to, the involvement with-- the trespass into-- form that leads to delusion. This is a violation of containment--the rupture of what one good friend of this blog would call the hermetical seal.

Inner considering, Gurdjieff's expression for the attachment of the inner state to outer objects, quickly morphs into identification, where we become so involved with the various external materials (impressions) we have ingested that we mistake it for the locus of Being.

And if we look, we can see this process constantly goes on in regards to absolutely everything, even our inner work.

Outer considering, on the other hand, is a practice that arises (in its ideal form, that is, complete lack of attachment to form) from the Open Way that Chogyam Trungpa expounded. In outer considering, there is no trespass--no violation.

This way springs from the heart.

In order for us to avoid what Christ calls trespassing, understanding must be taken into deeper parts of the being. It needs to be physically absorbed--incorporated into the living cells of the machine itself and perceived from within that state of sensation..

When we trespass, we attempt to violate life itself. It is the act of attempting to take our life from the world, rather than to receive the world life has to offer.

The supreme irony lies in the fact that we were created to receive, born to receive, and that there has never been any need whatsoever to take.

Only our delusion brings us to this ever-present state in which we seize instead of opening.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Friday, November 16, 2007


This morning I examined the inner state with a particular acuity during my sitting. I am in a real scrutinizing phase.

In regard to this question of the connections between centers, and the receptivity and functionality of our inner flowers, I see that it is a complex system. The energy channels in the body are as subtle and intricate as our biology itself. It is a network that spans worlds as well as cells, since it is designed to connect levels.

The simple fact, I see, is that the network is not always available in equal measure. There are several reasons for this.

One reason is because of the invariably limited resources we have. Our inner chemistry is not perpetually stocked with the necessary substances: they are not "easy" to manufacture, and we inadvertently squander so much of them.

Another is the astral, or planetary, conditions around us at any given moment: we cannot reasonably hope to prevail against the tidal forces that drive life on earth; the best we can do is learn to swim with them. The consonance that Dogen calls us to seek between ourselves and nature--as symbolized in Zen by rocks, trees, mountains, tiles and mirrors--is, among other things, his way of asking us to fine-tune our relationship to the natural forces we ourselves actually arise from.

I need to keep reminding myself of this, because there is a part of me that expects- or perhaps even demands- that "everything" always be available, and that my inner connections be forever good, or better, or even best. Of course there is a positive side to this type of striving--after all, it is an aspect of keeping my wish alive-- but when I expect too much--which is to say, more than what can actually be available-- I run the risk of signing on to a culture of perpetual deficiency, where I am not good enough, my efforts aren't good enough, and my experiences aren't good enough. All of which adds up to what one might call inner considering about one's work.

I think a very great deal of that goes on in all of us, but isn't talked about too often. Worth keeping an eye on, that question.

That being said, what has interested me of late is the meaning of what Gurdjieff called impartiality-- the question of how to become more whole.

My original group leaders, Henry and Betty Brown, often brought this question to us. The word cropped up; we heard it. Nonetheless, having heard it, I am not sure we understood how to examine it, that is, study the question of our partiality in an inner sense.

To be impartial is not, in the end, a question of intellectual objectivity. There is a much greater question at hand here: how do the inner parts connect to form a whole?

In the structural study we undertake, using the Gurdjieff system, the enneagram, and other practical esoteric tools to discern the nature of our Being, we begin to see that our parts are not connected. Maybe we even learn to help some of them form better relationships. This type of work is gradual, protracted, intimate.

All of it leads to a moment when the potential of wholeness emerges. In studying the relationship between our various inner parts, eventually all the flowers need to become one flower. In learning to breathe in through our individual flowers, we also need to learn how to feed the whole garden. In the inner sense, all flowers are parts of this one flower; if we can get a taste of that, more may be possible.

There is a teaching contained within this idea that relates to the essentially fractal nature of the enneagram. When I was in Cambodia last month, I saw how cleverly the architects who built the Hindu temples at Banteay Srei and other places depicted the sacred fractal nature of relationship within the universe. The towers of the temples at Banteay Srei have multiple levels that climb towards heaven, depicting the ray of creation as it flows downwards.

And on every level, at every corner, there are miniature versions of the selfsame tower.

The message is clear: big temples are made of little temples, which are made of littler temples still.

We get so involved with the individual little temples (ideas, interests, parts) that we forget they are all part of one big temple. In the same way, our little inner "I's" forget they are part of a bigger single "I," a greater Being.

If we remember ourselves, perhaps we get a taste of that greater Being. The Self that has been forgotten is unknown, in large part, because it is greater than the Self that seeks to know. We speak here not just of inexperience but of differences of scale, and the inevitable deficiencies of vision caused by our habit of cheerfully squatting within little temples.

...And that Being, that Greater Self? Well, even that I is part of a still larger "I." So it's quite possible self remembering is necessary at every level of the universe, in order for the fractured nature of awareness to reconnect itself.

These are some of the external associations, from which very beautiful cloth indeed can be embroidered. The greater question, for me, is how to actively sense and see within myself how every flower is a part of one flower--how every center connects to form a greater whole which, in the Gurdjieffian cosmological model, we refer to as the enneagram.

And in particular how I might be able to experience that by the supremely difficult practice of throwing the associative assumptions away.

I continue to find, in my inner research, that touching and tasting these realities depends on the most intimate possible kind of contact with the breathing. A kind of contact that has nothing to do with manipulative practices. Instead it relies almost exclusively on the cultivation of a new and deeper type of awareness.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Being, dwelling in life

Another quote from Dogen's Shobogenzo, Nishijima and cross translation, book 3, p. 223:

"In conclusion, to go deep into the mountains to consider the Buddha's truth may be easy, [but] to build stupas and to build Buddhas is very difficult."

I picked this quote specifically because of its reference to building things. I am on this tack because, last night, as I was sitting in my group, towards the end of the exchange an observation occurred to me.

The question that was active in me at the time was the question of inhabiting my life. Those of you more familiar with the postings in this blog have heard this expression from me before. We need to learn to inhabit our lives more fully. That is to say, we need to be more invested in our lives, more fully clothed in the act of living. That is an effort that needs to be made through the connection between mind and body and not just the mind alone.

In connection to this idea, it struck me that we all usually see it from this perspective:

Being constructs life.

Being, the whole experience of our existence itself, is essentially seen as a tool that is used by us to construct a livelihood, a family, a set of relationships with other people, and the many material things that surround us.

In presuming this, we make the very mistake that Gurdjieff warned us about, because man cannot "do," and yet the entire act of believing that we use Being to construct life is nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt to do.

We think we are building stupas and building Buddhas. We all labor, like Tolstoy's characters in War and Peace, under the illusion that our Being is constantly constructing our life, under the illusion that what we do is what causes events to happen and circumstances to arise. If we are looking for a locus to our egoism, it lies here.

Last night, in my pondering, I considered the alternative, which involves an inversion of perspective.

Being dwells within life.

Life does not need to be constructed by us; it arrives on our doorstep already in existence. This immediate truth is the immediate truth that Dogen keeps referring us back to. We dwell within this condition called life which is, for all intents and purposes, pre-existing: it needs no construction. Our idea that we are somehow making our life as we go along is, as Solomon claimed in Ecclesiastes, sheer vanity, but the idea is so powerful that it has us completely hypnotized, to the last man. It's only when something truly unexpected (and often horrible) happens that we see that our idea we were controlling everything was truly foolish and stupid. As the man said, "to build stupas and to build Buddhas is very difficult."

Nicholas Taleb discusses this in somewhat different terms in his book "The Black Swan," where he points out that we simply don't know what will happen, and routinely forecast events (circumstances, lifetimes) even though our margin of potential error in what he calls "Extremistan" is close to 100% at all times.

So the question for us when we confront the question of what it means to Be becomes a question of what it means to dwell within our life, to inhabit our life, to wear the clothing of our life, which is already cut and sewn up for us by forces much greater than us.

Our job is to learn how to live within the inherent uncertainty of, well,


This all leads us back to the idea that we need to become much more receptive to our life, to be informed by it. That is, to allow life to form us inwardly by receiving it with discrimination instead of resistance. To live within the conditions, not judgmentally, not passively, but interactively.

And that thought leads me to another subject I pondered last night, which is the ubiquitous presence of fear, which--although i am still pondering this-- probably arises organically simply because of the inherent uncertainty of everything.

Some parts of the organism just don't want to tolerate this fact.

I think, however, that we have pondered this enough for one day. I'm afraid we will have to talk about fear tomorrow, or--at any event--

sometime in that definitely uncertain future.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water, within organically acceptable margins of error.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The sixth division of the society of Akhldanns

I promised some time ago to get back to this subject, and finally the time is at hand.

In "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson," Gurdjieff describes the sixth division of the Society of Akhldanns as follows:

"The members belonging to the sixth section were called 'Akhldann-mistessovors,' that is to say, beings who studied all kinds of outer events, whether actualized consciously or arising by themselves, and further studied which of these events were erroneously perceived by beings, and in what circumstances."

In correlating the inner energy centers to the sixth position on the enneagram and in the multiplications, this division of the society represents what is called the "third eye."

A loaded subject, to be sure. There's a lot out there about the third eye. All kinds of magical powers are ascribed to it. We see it repeated slapdash in contemporary metaphysical imagery, literalized and trivialized to the point where it becomes almost meaningless.

Cutting through all the crap, we have two perfectly good eyes that can discern the outside world already. The implication is that the third eye has to have a different kind of perceptual ability. Of course, there are those that feel this ability is psychic (whatever exactly that is supposed to mean.) However, in the allegory presented in Gurdjieff's society of Akhldanns, this eye has a more prosaic ability -- the ability of discrimination.

Discrimination is not a visual ability, which is why all those very literal pictures of dudes with eyeballs in their foreheads bother me. A mouth might actually be a more appropriate image to place there, because if and when the "third eye" does take anything in directly--a very, very rare event indeed, for most people--, it swallows it.

If you think about it, you may agree that discrimination requires not just an intellectual understanding, but also an emotional one. I would personally argue that the center of gravity in the act of discrimination is emotional- an intuitive, tactile quality is needed in order to discriminate. Trying to base discrimination on facts alone is not enough.

And it makes perfect sense to me that this quality of an ability to discriminate would arise from one of the six sensory flowers that comprise the inner emotional structure.

The ability to discriminate was highly valued by Gurdjieff. He asked his students to study subjects such as hypnotism and occultism so that they could tell the difference between the charlatans and real religious discipline. All through his work runs a thread of concern about the delusional nature of people's ordinary way of seeing things.

We run into the same question in Dogen's Shobogenzo. He often speaks of the mistaken views of non-Buddhists, people who are not on the path. In chapter 69 (Nishijima and Cross translation, book 3) he discusses the question of the Eye of the Buddhist patriarchs as follows:

"Thus, in the orders of Buddhist patriarchs, many have pursued the truth by taking up the mind of grass and trees. This is a characteristic of establishment of the bodhi-mind. The fifth patriarch at one time was a being who practiced the way by planting pines. Rinzai experience to the effort of planting cedars and pines on Obaku-zan mountain. There was the old man Ryu who planted pine trees on Tozan mountain. By taking on the constancy of pines and oaks, they scooped out the eye of the Buddhist patriarchs. This was real manifestation of the identity of power in playing with the lively Eye and clarification of the Eye. To build stupas, to build Buddhas, and so on are to play with the Eye, are to taste the establishment of the mind, and are to use the establishment of the mind. Without getting the eye of building stupas and so on, there is no realization of the Buddhist patriarch's truth. After getting the Eye of building Buddhas, we become Buddhas and become patriarchs."

So for Dogen, the use of the third eye has to do with the establishment of the mind. For me, this also implies acquiring the quality of discrimination. His reference to grass and trees mirrors forming a connection between levels, between the upper and lower stories (142 and 857), as well as the inherently organic nature of this work.

The stability (constancy) created by the action of "planting trees"--becoming more rooted in an inner sense-- is what brings them into relationship with this particular flower.

Speaking strictly from my own experience, I would agree that the energy center referred to as the third eye has a special quality. However, this quality is no more "special" than the special qualities of the other five inner flowers. That is to say, each one of them has a special quality, and all of them are needed in conjunction in order to form a whole. Specialized forms of meditation that concentrate strictly on this location may produce results of one kind or another. Unless they understand the relationship between this energy center and the other five flowers, however, they run the risk of imbalancing and overwhelming the system.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Over the past week, I have been struggling on multiple fronts, between recovery from jet lag, recovery from the debilitating virus I brought back with me, and the re-entry into daily life here, opposed to the way it proceeds on trips.

All of the rhythms are different. Add a change in seasons and the conversion to daylight savings time--it's a lot to heap up on one body all at one time.

Two things strike me quite distinctly in regard to this question.

One is that there is a tremendous resistance in me to actually taking in the ordinary impressions of life. The resistance is so absolutely habitual -- it has solidified into a substance that forms a barrier between me and life -- that I don't even notice that most of the time. It's only now, when my body is weaker and I am struggling with the impressions of life in general, that I see more clearly how little I actually let in. It's like communicating through a thick layer of sludge.

Being in relationship with my impressions costs me part of my being. There is material in me that actively resists paying that price. In moments like this, when there is less coin to lay on the table in the first place, the reluctance becomes more obvious.

The second thing that strikes me is just how difficult it is to inhabit a body. We do this, too, habitually and reflexively, and take it so much for granted that only pain and weariness themselves may cause us to see how routinely difficult the act of being alive is. With a greater sense of connection to the body, the extraordinary effort that is required just to stay in this body and experience through it becomes more apparent. Everything is difficult. Even breathing in and out is a lot of work, if I am aware of it.

Contradictory impulses arrives at moments like this, because at the same time I struggle to stay alive -- as we all do -- I see there is something that might be comfortable with just letting go. I am, after all, essentially lazy, and being here in this body is a lot of work. That's what it is -- work. Part of me just doesn't want to deal with it.

And on yet another level, today, I receive constant reminders.

There is support that arrives from places unknown.

Where does the support come from? This is perhaps what Dogen called "...merit achieved without doing, and ...merit achieved without becoming." (Shobogenzo, Nishijima and Cross translation, book 3, p.218.)

The subtle, glorious tendrils of support that grown within the body reaffirm it: we are already valuable.

So today I attempt to accept the condition of struggle, of difficulty. It, too, is part of what is necessary.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The udumbara flower

Reading this morning from Dogen's Shobogenzo, Nishijima and Cross translation (Dogen Sangha Press), book 3, chapter 68, "Udonge."

The Zen Buddhists can hardly be accused of reductionism. To the last man, the masters all seem to be poets. And who can blame them? After all, what is uncovered in the search for being turns out to be infinitely richer than any of the dry words we find in the technical prose of spiritual workbooks.

Gurdjieff steered away from explaining this to Ouspensky; instead, we get tables and charts and mathematical formulas. All of them are, of course, totally valid within their context, but in the end, don't they beggar the question? Only in his magnum opus "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson" do we find any hints of the rapture that man ought to inherit as his rightful legacy.

Perhaps Gurdjieff, seeing man's powerful and often destructive inclination towards imagination and romance, decided he should do anything but encourage it. I find myself wondering, however, why he did not refer more to this profoundly creative and magnificent force that arises within our body and can give us so much to help us understand what our life is. In contrast to his legendary generosity with children, he seems to have preferred to dole out his sweets for his adult associates in the smallest possible quantity.

Dogen makes a compelling case for the idea that we may be better off, sometimes, casting our lot with the poets instead of the yogis.

In Chapter 68, we encounter the udumbara flower, the selfsame flower that Buddha held up on Vulture Peak, where only one disciple, Mahakasyapa, understood the implication.

Everything is flowers.

"The seven Buddhas and the many Buddhas are all in the same process of twirling flowers, which they have practiced-and-experienced, and realized as twirling of flowers the ascendant state, and which they have torn open and exposed as twirling of flowers down in the here and now. Plus, inside the concrete reality of twirling flowers, every instance of ascending and descending, or towards the self and towards others, or outside and inwards, and so on, is the totality of flowers displaying itself."

If there was ever a chapter in which Dogen made it clear that his endless references to flowers involve work with the inner centers, it is this one.

The chapter, which is not very long, expounds the idea that the twirling of flowers -- the "spinning" of Chakras, the investment within the inner centers --is the very essence of enlightenment. It is the fragrance and the sensation of the inner centers that earns them this comparison with flowers.

Dogen encourages us to travel deeply inwards until we experience the sweetness, the depth, the beauty of the motive forces within our being. One whiff of the real world as it enters through the nostrils will launch more than a thousand inner ships; I would not trade even one single, momentary taste of a flower opening, once, for everything Bill Gates has.

Why? Because the blooming of the inner flowers renders money and power completely irrelevant. Why drink in the material things of this world, when one can drink the nectar of life itself instead? Can anything be so precious as the scent of roses in one's fingertips? As the sensation of an ethereal orchid that opens in the heart?

It's true: the Buddhists chose the udumbara flower as a symbol of this kind of opening simply because the flower its self is supposed to be so incredibly rare. Opening our heart to the action of our inner flowers is an equally rare event--or at least so it is implied.

But perhaps it need not be that rare. Perhaps it is much more available than we suspect. Perhaps the fragrance of the inner flowers lies within the air we will draw in in our very next breath.

"The opening of flowers is the occurrence of the world. A flower is five petals opening and the bearing of fruit is naturally realized."

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Bit More Churning

Day before yesterday, I mentioned that the reference to churning in the myth about the ocean of milk probably refers to a particular kind of yogic experience, without any further elaboration.

At the time, I didn't really feel like getting into it, but I suppose that the reference deserves some further explanation.

Many of the unusual motions that we encounter in esoteric disciplines such as the Gurdjieff movements are actually attempts to re-create movements that take place spontaneously in the human body when the inner flowers connect. For example, the Jewish practice of davinning, which looks bizarre to outsiders, is actually an intentional re-creation of a body movement that arises during meditation under certain conditions. A second example is the fluttering of hands, which is a re-creation of a particular sensation which takes place when the heart chakra opens.

In Yoga, most, if not all, positions are meant to open centers. The discipline is to some extent operating ass-backwards, however, because what "ought" to happen--i.e. what actually happens if anything real becomes connected--is that the center opens, and then a posture is spontaneously assumed.

Yoga, bless its heart, takes a page directly from Gurdjieff's little red instruction booklet and tries to assume the posture in order to open the center. As in other esoteric disciplines, it's taught that the intentional re-creation of movements and postures with known (or at least traditional) associations to the opening of centers can bring a man into the state from which they originally arose. Gurdjieff's movements are jam-packed with such material, practiced in a far less leisurely form than traditional yoga delivers.

...When he called his teaching "haida," or "hurry up," yoga, he really meant business.

I'm not 100% clear on the practice. If it really worked that way, yoga would reliably produce one master after another, and the planet currently has countless hordes of ordinary people practicing yoga without any notable progress on their inner state.

In fact, I suspect, practicing the Gurdjieff movements, or perhaps even yoga, may well be of limited value simply because no one actually knows any more what a particular posture or movement is actually supposed to express, teach, or open. By now much is a matter of guesswork.

In any event, from my own experience, I'd suggest that the myth of churning the ocean of milk probably relates to a set of movements that take place reciprocally in the neck and the head, and then at the hips, the pelvis, and the base of the spine.

Under the correct set of conditions, when energy centers are brought into relationship, the lower triad (root, solar plexus, sex center) and the upper triad (heart, throat, third eye) engage in a reciprocal exchange of vibrations which will cause the head to spontaneously and rapidly rotate back and forth, with the energy generated from this activity traveling down into the lower portion of the body and arousing the same motion. The movement loosens the spine at the top and the bottom and brings the top and the bottom of the spine into a greater sense of relationship. It's not uncommon for the forward-and-backwards motion seen in davinning Orthodox Jews to arise as an adjunct to this process. This "churning" of the body's muscles opens the spine and the energy centers, relaxes blockages, and facilitates a better flow of inner substances. (The somewhat discredited guru Da Free John--truly a man of many names and faces--wrote a bit about this in "The Method of The Siddhas," for those who may be interested.)

In the churning myth, many other valuable substances are created before the elixir of immortality appears. There is a clear and direct analogy here to the various levels of higher hydrogens found in Gurdjieff's system, all of which need to be developed in an orderly manner before the highest "12" hydrogens are attained.

In Zen, Dogen oft refers to the "psychic powers" that adepts develop while on the path-in all likelihood, the selfsame magical substances created by "churning." Dogen's material is rich with allegories that may well refer to aspects of this process.

In all three cases, it's understood that the many miraculous substances created during the process are just steps on the path. The "true aim" is the creation of the elixir of immortality.

I had a few more thoughts about this in the morning while walking the famous dog Isabel. One was that it's entirely possible the "ocean of milk" referred to in the Hindu myth represents what Gurdjieff would have called si12, or sex energy. Gurdjieff mentioned in In Search of the Miraculous that ancient schools routinely attempted to work with this hydrogen, instead of working with Mi12 which, according to him, was in fact the primary step, and produced more reliable results.

A second impression is that the snake- the naga- in the myth is wrapped around a mountain (Mount Mandara) which serves as the rotor to churn the milk. Occupying the central position in the saga, and lying in the center of the naga which represents the spine, this mountain has to represent the heart location, so it is the movement of the heart that creates the magical substances.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


"Sehnsucht" is a German word that means, roughly, "longing" in English. It carries deeper connotations, however. Within it is contained in the idea of a search for seeing -- a wish to have a more comprehensive inner vision of life, a deeper understanding.

Every search for understanding is conducted in the shadow of mortality; with age, the shadow grows longer.

I have been speaking over the past few days with my teacher and mentor Betty Brown, who has spent the majority of her life engaged in this search for seeing, and brought me into the Gurdjieff Work under her wing at a time when I was young and unformed. It was my deep privilege to work with her for many years. Now she is nearing the end of her own life and struggling with the uncomfortable facts that we all have to face in regard to our existence on this planet.

In the sensation and experience of breathing in and out through my own life, I sympathize and empathize with her struggle, because I see that the question of life and its inevitable end is much closer than I imagine. We carry our mortality right here with us, perched on our left shoulder. The presence of death is so constant and so familiar that we forget about it, unless we have that connection, through breathing, that reminds us.

Not always available.

This morning, on my way to work, I was taking in the rich impressions of the early morning sun on autumn foliage. As I experienced this spring, the color of change provides a new kind of food. This time, however, the color is not green, a color of new life. Instead I am taking in the rich reds and yellows and ambers that represent the end of life.

So right now I see I am receiving a special kind of food from the end of the summer, as the leaves die.
That moment gives me hope that within the end of life lives something that is shared everywhere, and lifts us all up.

I think what concerns us the most about the idea of dying is that there will somehow be a loss of value. I don't think we fully understand that all the value that is ever created between beings is eternally valid and never goes away. Once a value is created, once an effort is made, it will always be true, whether it lies behind us in time, with us now in time, or -- dare we imagine it? -- in the future.

In this search for vision, this search we engage in together for understanding, for compassion, for a real sense of what it means to be, we often look to the far horizon, as though what we are seeking must of necessity be far away and difficult to find.

In doing so, do we fail to take note of the absolute value, the irrevocable truth of meaning that lies directly in front of us, here, in the immediate inflow of impressions-- now?

It's true, of course, it takes a specific kind of chemistry, and a specific kind of inner connection which we do not orchestrate or command, to sense this properly. And it's equally true we have a facility for theorizing about this matter, and a lack when it comes to participation.

Our failure to ingest the food of life deeply enough continually leaves us in a place where we do not gain the emotional support we need to see the immediate value. This malnutrition leaves us emotionally flat, or, even worse, depressed and unhappy. We've all been there.

Hopefully, in this fall season, as so much of nature surrenders the bounty that it has created during the spring and summer, what is released will help to feed us in our effort. By absorbing the impressions of the work that has been done on our behalf, we contribute, and get something for ourselves at the same time.

Not such a bad deal, all in all.

For those of you who are waiting for the last two posts on the Society of Akhldanns, rest assured I have not forgotten. I will confess, however, that I am leaving them for a moment when I cannot think of anything else to post.

That could be tomorrow, or it could be in a week or two. In the meantime, we will just have to see what arises from day to day, both individually and collectively.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Churning the ocean of milk

There's irony in me writing about this subject today, because I got some kind of the gastrointestinal thing on my way back from Cambodia and believe me, the ocean has been churning in me for two days now.

Above is what may well be the most classic visual representation of this particular Hindu myth, as seen on the west side of Angkor Wat. What we see here is Vishnu, supervising a group of demons and gods who are arranged on either side of him in an epic tug-of-war, using a naga as the rope. What they are churning is not water, but an ocean made of milk--an ocean, in other words, of nourishment. According to legend, this activity creates the elixir of immortality.

If you go to the Wikipedia entry, you will see that this particular myth, which originally contained specific esoteric information about the energy within the body, has been polluted by a great deal of folklore and wishful thinking. Nonetheless, it's possible to extract some interesting information from the myth which relates to the recent post on nagas.

The activity, which is supervised by Vishnu, takes place on the back of the great turtle (an alternative incarnation of Vishnu) upon which the whole world rests. The turtle is a symbol of containment--its whole being is contained within its shell. In this particular interpretation, we may infer that containment is the foundation upon which the activity to create the elixir of immortality must be based. This is reminiscent, once again, of the understanding that the ascetic work of the sage is the support structure for all important work. The image of the sage is found on all four sides of every column supporting the roof of the Gallery this bas-relief is found in.

You will note that symbolically speaking, Vishnu is at both the top and the bottom of the activity, representing the note "do" in both positions. Like many other images in the Hindu iconography ( will try to get to that later) it represents the fractal nature of the universe, and the fact that everything is built on the Law of octaves.

From our earlier discussion of nagas, we can see that the snake itself represents a certain kind of energy, and the movement of that energy within the body. In this particular myth, elemental forces of a positive and negative nature, that is, demons and gods, work with each other to create this elixir. Vishnu stands in the center as the reconciling element.

In the earlier post, I also pointed out that the snake represents the spine. Energy traveling along the spine is what creates the "elixir of immortality," that is, higher energy that can be used for the development of the higher being bodies in man. Furthermore, we can infer from the myth that the elixir emerges from the balance of tensions between the two natures of man: a higher nature and the lower nature. This myth has an interesting aspect, because instead of depicting the two natures of men as being in struggle, it shows them cooperating in an activity where both are needed in order to create the elixir.

In the myth, the demons are the ones in charge of the head of the snake. This suggests that the work to connect with the higher nature in man springs from the effort and intelligence embodied in his lower nature. The gods in the myth end up holding the tail of the snake.

Worth pondering.

One other nifty little detail in this bas-relief is what happens underneath the area where the churning is taking place. The ocean of milk is filled with all kinds of verminous creatures: crocodiles, fish with big teeth, evil looking lions, and so on. They are being broken into bits by the activity. The work that is taking place is breaking up what Gurdjieff might call the malevolent "crystallized results" of the organ Kundabuffer. And, you may recall, that is exactly what Gurdjieff said would be necessary for men to grow: things that were crystallized in him would need to be smashed, so that something entirely new could take place.

We might infer that the churning that is spoken of in this mythology is allegorical.

More likely, however, is that the churning refers to more specific yogic experiences.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Hermit

...Another in my series of posts from the business class lounge in Seoul; today, a bit more about symbolism at Angkor Wat.

Maybe it goes without saying that the culture which produced Angkor Wat had different priorities than our own.

Just how different is debatable. After all, the people who lived in that world had to earn a living, feed their families, and deal with the usual emotional uproars of life, just as we do. Nonetheless, the overwhelming emphasis on religion is clear. As in contemporary Medieval Europe, the divine right of Kings held sway… emphasis on divine. The political authorities of the era had no authority without religious authority. Hence the huge temples at the very center of every city. The entire society revolved in a circle around the religion du jour.

…And, if you were an authority and didn’t have a temple, hell, you had to build one, sometimes, fast.

The iconography on the temple walls at Angkor recapitulates Hindu mythologies in the same manner that the stained glass at Chartres tells the story of the Bible. In both cases, the temples served as visual “books” for the largely illiterate populace, showing them, in tangible imagery, what they had heard at the feet of their parents or grandparents.

All over the world, at that time, there was a flowering of religious architecture—along with a blossoming of a kind rarely seen since, a moment when spiritual masters as intensely profound and diverse as Dogen, Meister Eckhart, and Rumi brought their work and their messages to mankind. A moment that may not have seen its like since. Something unique and remarkable was at work on the planet at that time—what, we can hardly guess at, but during the 12th, and 13th centuries, a remarkable divine influence was making itself felt across the globe.

We don’t know who the masters of Angkor were- aside from inscriptions dedicating temples, they left few to no records behind. But we can be sure they must have been there, from the touches they left behind: the extraordinary architecture, the subtle and refined artistic sensibilities, the utterly magnificent expounding of Hindu mythology on temple walls.

One particularly touching element in this grand show of pageantry is a small, consistent image that crops up all over the walls of almost every temple we saw here. That element is the very nearly ubiquitous image of the hermit.

The hermit is a smaller, almost uninteresting figure who crops up again and again in the scrollwork, the baroque Hindu fleur-de-lis covering columns and lintels. (The scrollwork motif at Bantey Srei owes more than a little to traditional Greco-Roman design: anyone who has seen the artwork at Pompeii and Herculaneum might reasonably presume that the style slowly filtered east, into unknown lands.)

This morning seemed like a good time for a last look at Angkor. Braving a rather fierce morning sun, Neal and I walked, for the second time, along the outside galleries of the inner temple compound at Angkor. Each of the four walls—close to 80 meters or so a side? -- is densely populated with elaborate depictions of Hindu Gods and their countless minions, living out epic battles and mythic encounters.

On the east wing of the temple is what turned out to be my personal favorite: the story of churning the sea of milk (with a naga that extends almost the entire length of the wall, as it happens) to create the elixir of immortality (I’ll try to get to a discussion of the esoteric meaning of that very cool myth in the next post or two.)

As we walked around the galleries from west to south to east to north with the circus of supernatural bas-reliefs on our left, on our right was the row of columns that supports the ceiling of the gallery, undecorated…

except at the base.

At the base of each side of every column, the figure of a bearded hermit, legs folded, hands together in prayer, engages in meditation. In the midst of all the explosive imagery, the unruly hubbub of eternal mythic confrontation,

the ascetic is the guy who’s holding everything up.

Of course we could argue this is just a coincidence. But perhaps, just perhaps, there was an understanding being expressed here: an understanding that the root of all being springs from a silent, hidden effort, from a very private, very serious wish to deepen our connection with the planet.

The iconography of the hermit leads us to the question: what supports our effort?

The effort of society?

The effort of the planet?

The relentlessly repeated motif of the mundane, humble, inglorious hermit points us in the direction of containment. Of quiet work, silent work.

Work that lies outside the glamorous allure of the Gods in battle. of today, some cool additional pictures of nagas are now posted at lee's other blog.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The symbolism of nagas

The back of one of the two principle nagas at Neak Pean, Cambodia, clearly showing the spinal column and the back of the heart chakra. A number of other nadis and chakras are indicated on the back of these figures.
The seven headed naga at Neak Pean from the front. If you double-click the image to enlarge it, it may be possible to make out the circular floral patterns indicating the upper and lower stories.

Today, we went to Neak Pean, a sacred site whose name means “entwined nagas.” The site was originally comprised of five pools of water with purifying qualities.

In order to avoid excessive visual clutter, I have posted some other cool pictures of nagas at Lee’s other blog, (and may add to them as i sort through the thousands of pictures I took while here) but I chose the two from this sacred site for specific reasons which will become clear below.

The naga is a visual legominism, that is, a sacred teaching written down and encoded so that it will not be lost. In its original form, there was a specific and "correct" symbolism to the naga. Much of it has been diluted, altered, or otherwise corrupted, but we can find the chief elements of it in many of the images here in Cambodia.

In its correct form, the naga is a serpent that has seven heads. The symbol probably originally came from India, where yoga schools used it to indicate the living energy that rises up through the human body from the base of the spine and circulates. Adopted for Buddhist iconography, typically, we see Buddha seated on it, with the serpent (a cobra) rising up behind him directly behind the backbone, and spreading its hood with its seven heads over him. Traditionally, it is said that the serpent sheltered Buddha while he spent his many years in ascetic meditation under the bodhi tree before he attained enlightenment. That is to say, Buddha worked in the shadow of the naga.

The seven heads of the naga represent the seven chakras. They correspond directly to the points on the enneagram, with the largest head in the center of the seven headed serpent representing the point do. The three heads on the right-hand side represent the notes re, mi, fa, or the numbers 1, 2, 4. This constitutes the lower triad in the human body, that is, the root, sex, and solar plexus. The three smaller serpent heads on the right-hand side of the naga represent the notes sol, la, si, or the numbers 5, 7, 8. This is the upper triad corresponding to the heart, throat, and third eye.

In some even more sophisticated symbolism, we sometimes find Garuda-- the fleshy vehicle we inhabit-- in the center of the naga figure. This symbolism corresponds directly to Leonardo da Vinci's placement of man within the circle which corresponds so strikingly to the work man does within the inner enneagram in order to open his flowers. And indeed, nagas are often studded with flowers, circular areas representing blossoms. Not to mention the interesting and stunningly coincidental connection between Quetzelcoatl, the feathered serpent of the mayan priesthood, and this hybridzed symbol of Garuda surmounting nagas.

...Come to think of it, given the many very peculiar similarities between Cambodian art and Mayan art, maybe it's not a coincidence at all.

As if the point that this energy opens the flowers was not driven home enough, it is not uncommon to see the central naga in a group spitting a chain of lotus flowers out of his mouth. And, to make matters even more interesting, at Neak Pean (see the above photo) you will see a clear depiction of a spinal column running up the back of one of the two nagas at the fountain center. In fact, this not-very-abstract representation of the spine frequently runs up the front of other nagas as well.

On the front of the two nagas at neak pean we also see a large flower corresponding to the circulation of energy in the lower story triad, and a smaller flower corresponding to the upper story triad.

So here we have a complex figure, passed on from Hindu practice into Buddhism, which depicts the enneagram, to work with the flowers, the flow of energy through the spine, the circulation within the upper and lower triads, and so on. It is probably no coincidence whatsoever that exactly the same creature -- a cobra -- appears on the diadem of Egyptian pharaohs, in the position of the third eye. (in secular terms, it symbolized the kingdom of lower egypt.)

The symbol was used by esoteric schools thousands of years ago all over the world. What we have today are many different versions of it, most of them changed in one manner or another, but all of them referring to the very same work that we undertake when we seek an inner connection.

There is a great deal of information about inner work within these symbols. It's worth studying them for their inner significance as well as their beauty.

One last caveat: Please forgive me if there are typos or weird misstatements anywhere in this post. I dictated a good portion of it, which can lead to comical misspellings, and I'm in a hurry to post before the hotel toasts my internet connection, which has been poor at best from here in Cambodia.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.