Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dharma, set theory, peace

I am a little off my game. There is a bit of a minor infection in me of some kind, and it is taking a great deal of my inner energy just to fight it off. I'm not actually sick, but I can really sense the drain on my resources to work against whatever virus is active.

This takes away from what I have available for my inner work, and it reminds me powerfully of the fact that our resources are limited.

We often see failure to work, failure to rise to the spiritual occasion or the moment, as a deficiency. This is a kind of negative thinking; when we do this, we think we are bad, or not trying hard enough, or inadequate in one way or another. Quite probably nothing could be further from the truth. What is happening here is that we do not have the resources at that moment. It is not a matter of deficiency, but of the realistic limitations. The chemistry of the human body can produce only just so much in a given day to support our work.

Thinking negatively about ourselves and criticizing ourselves for the failure to be awake, to be present, is just a form of self-destruction. We are not going to enhance our experience of self if we chip away at it like this.

This morning I was reading chapter 54 of the Shobogenzo, "Hossho"- The Dharma Nature. In it, Dogen deals with the nature of the universe from the viewpoint of Buddhism. One of the things that strikes me about his world view is that the Dharma, that is, reality, or truth, completely encloses and expresses everything. There is no escape from the Dharma; even escape from the Dharma is not escaping.

As I read through this chapter, it struck me that many of the statements that Dogen makes, in which concepts are nested within concepts, turned around upon themselves, and re-nested, are a bit reminiscent of set theory. In expounding cosmology, Dogen expounds relationships and scales.

Let's take an example.

Allow us, for the sake of argument to assume that some things are "good" and other things are "evil." (Yes, I know, this introduces a theoretically unacceptable dualism, but just bear with me.) Within the universe, the set of things that are "good," or, if you will, evolutionary, is infinite. The set of things that are "evil" or involutionary, is also infinite.

We can agree that both the "good" and the "evil" things are true: that is, they exist, regardless of our value judgment about them. This means that the infinite set of things that are "good" and the infinite set of things that are "evil" are part of a larger infinite set of things that are "True."

Thus we demonstrate that the infinite set of Truth is larger than the infinite sets of "good" and "evil."

Truth is a larger infinity. Neat, huh? ...If it appears to you to be no more than an annoying form of sophistry, go complain to the mathematicians. They're the ones who thought this kind of thinking up in the first place.

This weird little thought experiment of "smaller" and "larger" infinities also demonstrates (for stupid 'ol amateur philostopher me, at least) that value judgment automatically diminishes the scale of perception.

Worth pondering, I think.

Yes, Dogen's work is quite difficult, but if one reads it with this idea of set theory in mind, one perhaps begins to see, at least a bit, how he nests sets of ideas within one another as he compares them.

It is really quite beautiful. Sometimes it reminds me of the opening of a flower, where the petals slowly unfold to reveal more and more detail, yet nonetheless always retaining their essential characteristic of being a flower. Every petal of that flower contains its own Truth, yet the set of all petals creates a larger truth called "flower."

Because the essential structure is fractal in nature -- that is to say, every single element is a reflection of the entire system -- the whole universe is contained within each manifestation, no matter how small. Dogen's cosmology accounts for this in asserting the ubiquity and invulnerability of the Dharma.

Once again, this is not so different from Gurdjieff. He himself said that men divide things up with their minds when all they ought to perceive is one single thing. His term for God -- "His Uni-Being Endlessness--" seems to me to neatly cover Dogen's essential concept of the Dharma.

Both of these masters asked us to make efforts to expand our awareness to a point where this is less of a theory, and more of a direct experience we can participate in. And both of them, in their own way, repeatedly call us back to a sense of the physical experience of life as it enters us as the vehicle towards a more unified Being.

Somewhere along the line I picked up a subscription to Shambala magazine, which I like, although it is heavily polluted with a gargantuan pile of spiritual sales pitches. Dharma for sale... tuppence a bag... but, in all fairness, the ads keep the magazine alive, so why should I complain?

Anyway, Pema Chödrön has a very nice and heartfelt article in this month's issue about peace, and the role of Buddhist theory and thinking in the effort to establish a more significant direction of inner peace within the conditions we inhabit. It starts out with a rundown of what Nicoll would have called "keeping accounts" and deftly analyzes a good deal of the psychology that drives both inner and outer conflict. It wraps up by offering some truly practical techniques I have used myself. And it's refreshingly frank about what might be identified as an inherent weakness--the belief system of karmic debt, without which Buddhism might not be Buddhism. ...Weakness, I say, because perhaps it leans a bit too directly on form in pursuit of its aim.

I rather liked the article. At the same time, what seems to me to be missing from this otherwise very good piece on life practice is the understanding of three-centered work (See yesterday's post.) Perhaps it's not fair of me to ask this of the Buddhists--after all, one can hardly argue that the concept (at least in those terms) is a central, or even peripheral, tenet of Buddhist practice per se-- but I can't help but feel, reading Dogen, that somehow that questions does happen to be at the secret heart of all Buddhist effort--

as well as that of the Jews, Muslims, Christians, and, last but never least, Hindus.

If we learn to work within three centers, we slowly begin to lean more on Being and less on form.

This brings a living quality to the pursuit of inner, and outer, peace that does not need to rely on any conventional religious explanations. Instead, it relies on the direct experience of the moment.

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

munching on leaves

Caterpillars have it easy. For them, metamorphosis is a given--as long as they don't get eaten. In our own case, munching on leaves alone seems like it is not enough.

Some days, however, munching leaves is all we can do: and by munching leaves, I mean taking in our daily bread, actively taking in the impressions of our life, which we should all, I think, set as a specific aim for ourselves every morning when we sit.

Today I have been watching ordinary emotional reactions. As usual, here at the office, dozens of unexpected, challenging, often annoying circumstances arise. Within these conditions, I see that my emotions are constantly in reaction to the situation. I often see that the thinking part is opposed to them; that is to say, while the emotions are telling me one thing -- quit this stupid job right away, for example --the intellect is busy pointing out that the emotional reaction is too extreme, invalid.

BUT, on the other hand, the emotional reaction is true- this is really how I feel. And the intellectual reaction certainly doesn't have any solutions for that. It doesn't have the right kind of equipment.

What to do?

In the middle of all this, today, I re-discover the body as a mediator. I keep returning to the sensation of the body, to the experience of gravity -- the direct experience of gravity within the body -- as the anchoring point between this Scylla and Charybdis of emotion and intellect. Thought and emotion really are the rock and hard place of everyday experience, aren't they? The currents of life constantly force us directly between these two hard, rocky points of opposing inner truth. It takes a very clever navigator to avoid colliding with one or the other.

There is an old story about a priest and his seminary student. The priest is counseling a couple who is breaking up, and the student is shadowing him. First the priest listens to the husband and his complaints. When he is done, the priest says to him "Well, you are absolutely right." Then he listens to the wife, who voices her complaints. When she is done, the priest says to her, "Well, you are absolutely right."

The couple leaves the room and the seminary student looks at the priest kind of funny. He wrinkles his brow and says: "I don't get it. They can't both be absolutely right."

The priest looks at him, shrugs his shoulders, and says, "You're absolutely right."

Opposing truths... hard to resolve that one, isn't it?

....In order to have any balance within this unreliable "weather of life," all three points--intellect, emotion, body--have to be touched on in the moment, within the experience of Being. A greater awareness arises from within that moment of effort.

I am going to bring up something here that will sound quite obvious. I think, however, if you study it carefully you will see there is much more to it than we give credit for.

In studying my emotions today, I see that my usual emotional reactions definitely present themselves as intelligent. That's how they come across as they arrive: they are smart, savvy, they know how to deal with things. On examination, however, it's quite clear they are supremely stupid, since they don't take about 9/10 of the actual life situation into account. They give advice it would be objectively foolish to take.

Intelligence, on the other hand, usurps validity in its own way and poses as emotion in a lot of situations where it should not. The thinking part lacks in warmth and sensitivity, and can easily take convincing actions that, although entirely logical, are equally stupid.

A lot of dispassionate decisions made in business, almost invariably in the objective service of profit, fail to take the human element in to account, fail to understand the compassion that is needed, and deliver crushingly awful results to the individuals they affect. This produces those famous moments when the ceilings collapse on the men digging the coal.

We have, in other words, a major disconnect in us between what appears to be happening and what is actually happening. We do not study emotion and intelligence enough to see the difference between the two of them. When Gurdjieff asked us to engage in a serious study of the centers, I believe it was because he realized we actually don't know a great deal of what we ought to know about where the impulses in our life come from.

What is the use of sensation in this equation? ...By sensation, of course, I mean the experience of living in this body.

The physical experience of life as a reconciling force can help to wake us up. If we remember through our sensation -- or, even better, through the organic sense of being, which is a living thing rather than the willed event of sensation--that we are alive, and we are here, it sets us a fulcrum. If we are too far into emotion, we can leverage it with intellect, and vice versa.

Without a balancing point this is almost impossible.

So today the question is how to have a more specific, exact experience of life that begins with the question of how I can live with in this life more attentively, more actively, with more reason --which is not intelligence, not emotion, and not the sensation of the body, but a deft and dynamic blend of all three of these experiences within the condition of mind itself.

I believe that we have to bring a precision to our observation, not a precision of observation about events or circumstances, but a precision about the interaction of the parts within any given moment. This precision does not consist of analysis, but rather an inner, direct experience that is inhabited. Worn like clothing.

In the inhabitation of this moment of a greater inner precision, that which needs most to be discovered stands revealed without the use of force.

In the study of self, perhaps we ought to, in this ordinary life, be a little more like caterpillars.
To slowly, deliberately, locate leaves, munch on leaves, know we are munching on leaves, and perhaps even enjoy munching on leaves-

not such a bad thing, in the end.

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

not only ubiquitous, but also non-emotional Dharma

Today we return to Nishijima and Cross's translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo for a further look at the source chapter for yesterday's quote- book 3, chapter 53- Mujo-Seppo, or, "The Non-Emotional Preaches the Dharma."

As with all of Dogen, the entire chapter needs to be read in order to appreciate the depth with which he covers his subject. I am just going to try to hit a few high points here.

A close reading of the chapter may suggest that when Dogen says 'non-emotional', he means "objective." And in this interpretation, some might be reminded of Gurdjieff's continuing call to objectivity; in his eyes, it is the subjectivity of man that leads to his downfall. We find further parallels in Western psychology, where the "collapse" of objective outside events into the narrow interpretative field of ego may be seen as one of the difficulties routinely confronting the individual in efforts to derive a consistent and legitimate meaning from life.

Dogen was careful to let us know that the non-emotional preaching of the Dharma was not an intellectual practice. On page 102 he says, "... the non-emotional preaching the Dharma, though multifarious, does not require the activation of the intellect. The succession that takes place at this time is truly a secret. Those in the states of the common and the sacred cannot easily arrive at or glimpse it."

He goes on to intimate that the non-emotional preaching of the Dharma derives from a direct, unquantifiable experience of truth. We might call it an unmediated "experience of experience" that lies between the Scylla and Charybdis of intellect and emotion.

Because it is so intimate and difficult to explain, he says: "the present non-emotional, which may indeed be a mystery, and very wonderful, and again very wonderful, is beyond the wisdom and the consciousness of common men and sages and saints and is beyond the reckoning of gods and human beings."

...Does this remind us perhaps of Christ's "the Peace of God, which passeth all understanding?" For me, it does.

On page 103, Dogen speaks even more directly to the question of this mysterious physical experience: "going further, there are instances of the thoroughly realized the body hearing the sound and instances of the whole body hearing the sound. Even if we fail physically to master hearing sounds through the eyes, we must physically realize, and must get free from, [the truth that] the non--- emotional are able to hear the non-emotional preaching the Dharma, for this is the truth that has been transmitted ... This is Dharma-preaching of the non-emotional state, in which the ancestral Patriarch's right eyes have been transmitted and in which the bones and marrow have been transmitted."

Admittedly, as with most of his material, Dogen's exact message has been obscured by the specific language and meanings which Buddhists used a thousand years ago. Nonetheless, we can glean the intimation that Dogen speaks here of a physical experience of objectivity: the objective physical experience of truth as it enters the body.

Non-emotional preaching of the Dharma, in other words, can perhaps be likened to Gurdjieff's action of conscious labor, where one attempts to bring the attention to the point where impressions enter the body.

The potential connections deepen. On page 104, we find yet another possible touchstone between the two practices:

"...What is the non-emotional preaching the Dharma? The Master says, 'no abusive language.'

What Tosu expresses here is the very Dharma-plan of eternal Buddhas and the ordinance of the patriarchs. Such [preaching] as the non-emotional preaching the drama, and Dharma-preaching of the non-emotional, is, in short, not to speak abusive language."

Anyone familiar with with with the Gurdjieff work might be reminded here of the practice of conscious suffering, which is understood to be related to the non-expression of negative emotion. It appears as though Dogen may have linked the practice of attentive objectivity directly with the practice of not expressing negative emotion.

As usual, we are always in danger of finding what we want to find in books like this. Unfortunately, that is a danger that we run with everything we encounter.

It does seem odd, however, that Dogen and Gurdjieff so often seem to find echoes of each other in themselves.

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

Monday, October 1, 2007

Dogen's ubiquitous Dharma

It's often interesting when we find a correlation between various types of spiritual work. For example, I take great delight in the moments when I find an apparent correspondence between Dogen and Gurdjieff.

To me, it's equally interesting when I do not. Gurdjieff hardly cornered the market on spiritual understanding or ideas, even though, in some ways, he presented himself as the be-all and end-all on the matter.

In this particular instance, we're going to take a look at how Dogen feels about the relationship between the Dharma -- reality, the penetration of Being by Truth --and consciousness.

Oddly enough, along the way, as we examine this question, we are going to discover that even though Gurdjieff and Dogen appear to be in direct contradiction to each other, there is one moment in Gurdjieff's writing where we discover that perhaps they are not. And the particular comment I am going to glean from Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson will no doubt surprise those who have not read the text recently, or carefully.

First, let's take a look at this brief and (as usual) beautiful passage from Dogen's Shobogenzo:

"Never say that there is no benefit in hearing the Dharma without the involvement of mind-consciousness.Those whose mind has ceased and whose body is spent are able to benefit from hearing the Dharma, and those who are without mind and without body are able to benefit from hearing the Dharma. The buddhas and the patriarchs, without exception, pass through series of such instants in becoming buddhas and becoming patriarchs. How can the common intellect be fully aware of the influence of the Dharma connecting with the body-mind? It is impossible for us to fully clarify the limits of the body-mind. The merit of hearing the Dharma, once sown as a seed in the fertile ground of the body-mind, has no moment of decay; sooner or later it will grow, and, with the passing of time, it is sure to bear fruit." (Shobogenzo, Nishijima and Cross, Dogen Sangha Press, book 3, p. 100-101.)

So, you see, Dogen believes that man's development, once it is undertaken, takes place as a result of forces larger than man, and is constantly at work, even if a man's "common mind" is not.

I think we can all agree that this stands in stark contrast to Gurdjieff's cosmos of endless and relentless work, with the only light at the very end of the tunnel itself, and the danger of wrong crystallization, wrong development, losing the path, and so on, at hand with every step one takes.

Ouspensky apparently delighted in this spartan, oppressive picture of relentless work and nearly impossible difficulties. And, as I have pointed out before, I still believe that Gurdjieff gave the work to Ouspensky in this guise because that was what Ouspensky could relate to. If a man wants his work to be difficult, his obstacles to be nearly insurmountable, then giving him a work that offers anything less will prevent him from working.

This raises a lot of questions about how spiritual leaders give tasks, doesn't it? If the work does not suit the pupil, the pupil cannot do the work: he's not even interested in doing the work. Gurdjieff himself pointed out many times that work has to be tailored to the individual. To presume that he himself did anything other than that would be foolish.

Dogen presents us with the idea that even when we are not present, if we have begun to undertake work, it is at work within us. We are not, in fact, even able to fathom, with this common or ordinary mind, what is possible for us, or what is taking place within us. This understanding stands in marked contrast to the Gurdjieffian contention that anything that is not done with intention, done consciously, is wasted.

In Dogen's world view, one might argue, we are not even able to comprehend what conscious work is. In the staunch tradition of fully confounded expectations, all of our understanding of what conscious work consists of is turned on its head.

In this common state, with this common mind, perhaps we are not even able to be aware of what real conscious work is.

It may well be taking place without us. Hmm?

Heresy? Perhaps. A complete departure from the Gurdjieffian tradition? Potentially.

Yet we have this coda from Gurdjieff: one small, disturbing, apparently contradictory and even revolutionary remark gleaned from Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson:

"...I learned that these sacred substances 'abrustdonis' and 'helkdonis' are precisely those substances which enter into the formation and perfecting of the higher being bodies of the three-brained beings--that is, the 'kesdjan body' and 'body of the soul'--and that the separation of the sacred 'askokin' from the other two substances proceeds, when beings, on whatever planet they may be, transmute these sacred substances in themselves for the forming and perfecting of their higher bodies, by means of conscious labor and intentional suffering...

In this connection, the following personal opinion was formed in me:

If only these favorites of yours would seriously ponder all this and serve Nature honestly in this respect, their being self-perfecting might then proceed automatically, even without the participation of their consciousness..." (From the chapter Beelzebub's opinion of war, p. 1011-1012, Arkana edition, 1992.)

So apparently even the doctor of intentional consciousness himself was forced to allow for the possibility that inner work might take place "under its own steam," so to speak, if the right conditions were formed in a man. As it happens, I don't hear this passage discussed very often much by my fellow Gurdjieffians... How often? Actually, the word that comes to mind is "never."

Truth- the substance of Truth, the Dharma, not our conception of it--is a powerful force. All and everything arises from it. It penetrates everything, regulates everything, mediates everything.

It is we who are weak. Dogen's Dharma is infinitely strong.

To underestimate it is a form of vanity.

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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

sincerity and intensity

I'm keeping it brief today.

We often mistake intensity for sincerity. There is a general impression that if something is intense, it is somehow more intentional. And also that it will be more real, and lead us somewhere meaningful.

Hitler was intense. There's one example of the results one gets working with intensity. As Jeanne DeSalzmann warned J.G. Bennett more than once-- bad results.

Intensity does not beget sincerity. Not only that, if you want to look at the meaning of the word intense, intensity is actually the last thing we need.

To be intense means to be extreme. And extreme is what we usually are in our ordinary state: too invested in one part or another. Not balanced.

To be sincere, as my old group leader Henry Brown used to say, means to be whole. He often passed on the (apparently dubious) etymology of the word as meaning "without wax" (latin sin ceres.) This is a reference to the fact that in Roman times, marble busts that had cracks in them, i.e., not whole, were repaired using wax.

Etymologies aside, in our work, to be sincere is to be more whole.

We return once again to this concept of inner unity--which is created by a connection with a finer energy that can be discovered within the organism. It needs to be sought, located, contacted, cultivated.

We must not use intensity in this enterprise. It's like using a hammer to try and fix a watch. There is a gentleness and a more deliberate inner intimacy to the manner in which we need to attend to ourselves within life, if we want to be here, within our life, within the organic state of being.

When we learn to listen not with the ears, but the eyes, we gradually learn what it means to attend in an inner sense.

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

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Back to Dogen

After a week or more of immersing myself in Trungpa--I'm almost done with Cutting Through Spiritual materialism- I got back to Dogen again this morning, and was once again struck by the extraordinary beauty with which he expounds the Dharma.

A week ago I had occasion to speak with a well-respected and incredibly intelligent man, who happens to be one of the Trustees of the Gurdjieff Foundation, about Dogen. This guy is really smart. He's with it, deeply, immersed in the work, and an extraordinarily incisive thinker.

Even he admits--insists, almost-- that Dogen is maddeningly difficult.

That shouldn't daunt us. The miracle of Dogen is that between the impossible passages, the onion-layers of seemingly impenetrable Buddhist dialectic, utterly magnificent gems are revealed. Gems that combine the sensibility of a poet's breath with an artist's eye; the irreverent wit of a wag with the incisive insights of a sage.

The chapter "Bukkyo"- "The Buddhist Sutras"--takes on a subject oft misunderstood and even dismissed among practitioners: the value of the sutras, the written word, the teachings.

Dogen doesn't bathe the stinking skin bag and then toss the philosophy out with the Buddhist bathwater. In his eyes, the study of the ideas--philosophy--is just as important as any other part of practice. The chapter is well worth reading for anyone who wants to encounter a cogent and passionate argument for the right place of intellectual teachings in the life of the spiritual adept.

The whole chapter--which is rather brief--deserves a read in its entirety. Here are two excerpts (as usual taken from Nishijima and Cross's Translation of the Shobogenzo, Dogen Sangha Press):

"Therefore the long, the short, the square, the round, the blue, the yellow, the red, and the white, which are arranged in dense profusion throughout the universe in ten directions, are all the characters of the sutras, and they are the concrete surface of the sutras. We see them as the tools of the great truth, as the Buddhist sutras. This sutra is able to spread out over the whole of Time and to spread through entire nations. It opens the gate of teaching people and does not forsake any human household over the whole earth. It opens the gate of teaching things and saves material beings throughout the earth. In teaching buddhas and teaching bodhisattvas, it becomes the whole earth and the whole universe. It opens the gate of expedient methods, it opens the gate of abiding in place, and, not forsaking one person or a half a person, it reveals true real form." (book 3, page 86)

"Nevertheless, for the last two hundred years or so in the great kingdom of Sung, certain unreliable stinking skin-bags have said, "We must not keep in mind even the sayings of ancestral masters. Still less should we ever read or rely on the teaching of the sutras. We should only make our bodies and minds like withered trees and dead ash, or like broken wooden dippers and bottomless tubs." People like this have vainly become a species of non-Buddhist or celestial demon. They seek to rely on what cannot be relied on, and as a result they have idly turned the Dharma of the Buddhist patriarchs into a mad and perverse teaching. It is pitiful and regrettable." Book 3, page 87.)

The first passage reminds me of Christ's message: the Buddha's teaching saves material beings throughout the earth. For Dogen, the words and phrases of the Buddha are no empty philosophy; they, like the rest of the life that flows into us, are a living force that offers the possibility of transformation and liberation.

My wife asked me the other night what words are good for in the practice of work. ...Nothing, perhaps; but without the words, what would we have? Let us respect the words we encounter; they, too, are part of Truth, and not to be lightly dismissed by beating the drum of silent practice. Within practice, as the words come and go, they, too, can be accepted.

The second passage, highlighted by Dogen's snottily delightful irreverence, serves to remind us that thinking has a place. It may not be the kind of thinking we usually do, but we should not discount it. It's necessary.

Let's leave it at that for today.

May your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water.

Friday, September 28, 2007

To Openly Inhabit Life

In our line of inner work, people often speak of openness. They speak of liberation.

What does liberation mean? Let's ask some serious questions.

Look around you. Is liberation contained within the guardedness of form?

Is it contained within a structure where other people inform you as to whether or not your efforts are ”good” enough?

Is it liberation to live under the guidance of someone else’s right action and authority, or within the right action of your own authority?

Isn't liberation, isn't opening, to come to a point where we own our own life?

To become open, to me, means one thing in an inner sense. This is the effort to reunite the inner centers and allow each flower within us to open and receive the blessings it was designed to mediate.

In an outer sense, to be open is to inhabit life openly. This means, coming as much as possible from within the organic sense of being that arises through inner opening, to immediately meet life in whatever guise it arrives in, with as few preconceptions as possible. To meet it openly: to be willing to engage with it, to accept what it is, to accept the events and the people and live within them fully, unhesitatingly, as honestly as possible. To dwell as much as possible within truth as it presents itself.

The Christians have a word for this: Agape. Openhearted, unreserved love and warmth. Spontaneity of Being. Birth of the moment, from the moment, within the moment.

Too often, I see that we live behind grim fortress walls gaily painted with idealistic slogans. We need to kick those walls down and contact each other in a much more real way.

Too often, I see that people who claim to not judge are always judging, especially in spiritual matters. The whole enterprise is run on fear: fear of ourselves, fear of authority, fear of others being better, deeper, more meaningful than us. We have to throw this whole slop bucket out if we want to get anywhere at all.

I am no different than anyone else in these matters. We are all slaves who wear the same chains and seek to distinguish ourselves from one another by jingling them differently.

You will notice, at the upper right-hand corner of this blog, the statement that was sent to me and has guided my work for a number of years now:

"There is no "I", there is only Truth. The way to the Truth is through the heart."

As some of you know, this statement was sent to me as a result of my initiation by Mary. Little did I know that I would discover, these many years later, that this understanding comes directly from the Tibetan version of the Buddhist heart Sutra.

As related in Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism:

"The Heart Sutra ends with the "great spell" or mantra. It says in the Tibetan version: "therefore the mantra of transcendent knowledge, the mantra of deep insight, the unsurpassed mantra, the unequaled mantra, the mantra which calms all suffering, should be known as truth, for there is no deception...

...When the basic, absolute, ultimate hypocrisy has been unmasked, then one really begins to see the jewel shining in its brightness: the energetic, living quality of openness, the living quality of surrender, the living quality of renunciation. Renunciation in this instance is not just throwing away but, having thrown everything away, we begin to feel the living quality of peace. And this particular peace is not feeble peace, feeble openness, but it has a strong character, and invincible quality, and unshakable quality, because it admits no gaps of hypocrisy. It is complete peace in all directions, so that not even a speck of a dark corner exists for doubt and hypocrisy. Complete openness is complete victory because we do not fear, we do not try to defend ourselves at all. Therefore this is a great mantra." (page 199.)

Take note of his contention that this quality of openness is robust-! I have said it before: there is nothing weak in awakened Being. If what you experience is delicate and easily lost, don't try to hang your hat on it. It's not a peg.

Apparently Mary had a little more than my Christian roots in mind when she touched me. It may seem peculiar that what began as such an intensely and irrevocably Christian experience quickly morphed into a practice which finds firm roots in Tibetan Buddhism. One friend with a particular depth of yogic knowledge has pointed that out to me more than once. I don't think there are any contradictions here, however.

The teaching of Christ is the teaching of coming from the heart to discover the truth,

The teaching of the Buddha is to come from the heart and discover the truth,

The teaching of the Sufis is to come from the heart and discover the truth,

The teaching of our life is to come from the heart to discover the truth.

If we want to do this, we must learn to inhabit our lives, to openly inhabit our lives, to inhabit our lives as unconditionally as possible, without judgment, without fear. This is because our life itself is what will bring us Truth, filling our heart through our heart. It can't do this for as long as we continue to use our rejecting part to manhandle and abuse it.

Of course surrendering our negativity is terribly difficult, even terrifying. We are so filled up with judgments and with fears, if we give them up, we are afraid we will have nothing left. We do not understand that by giving the judgment and the fear up, something so magnificent will become available that it will overwhelm everything we are, and create a new world.

This inner journey that we share together is an effort to seek the heart of Christ within us. It is in there; and not so far away, at that. When He gave us the parable of the Lilies of the field, Jesus was trying to tell us that liberation is a gift God wants to give us as freely and as openly as he wishes for us to inhabit our lives.

I think the problem is that we do not want to accept it.

And so, we ask ourselves, where does Gurdjieff fit into all of this?

The man himself stands alone: his verbal and personal legacy speaks for itself.

But when true leaders die, we are not left with the men, or the women; we are left with organization. And, in an old joke Dr. Welch was fond of telling, organization was the first tool the devil reached for when he saw that Christ was giving the whole game away.

It can sometimes be difficult to see an image of freedom and liberation within the rigidity of form, any form. In form, everyone is very serious, somber: we need to have serious events with serious leaders who tell us serious things to do, and serious rituals to follow. Everyone within a form seems to need to speak the same way, act the same way, nod in approval at the same statements, ...and perhaps even foolishly repeat to each other the essentially nihilistic assessment that "there are no answers."

We are far too careful in our work. If we risk nothing, we will never move very far from where we are.

There is an answer. We can find Truth, if we seek it through the heart.

And that is exactly where we can discover an intense, unending gratitude for this experience called life.

This has been a difficult piece to write. It awakened emotions of real remorse and gratitude. I am not going to try to second-guess it; I will let it stand as it is, because it did come from the heart.

Much love to you all. May your trees bear fruit, may your wells yield water, and may your hearts be open.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Transformation and consistency

Today we are going to revisit yesterday's subject, expanding the allegory, and beginning with a picture of the Shawangunk conglomerate-- seen above in somewhat a larger context, after a few glaciers got through with it. (Transformation never ends.)

Let's look at an abbreviated version of an old Zen saying:

Before enlightenment, mountains are mountains. On the way to enlightenment, mountains are not mountains. After enlightenment, mountains are mountains again.

Our conglomerate went through the same process. It began as a mountain, went through a radical process of transformation that destroyed it, heated it, melted it, and reformed it. It ended up right back where it came from. The physical state, which began one way, deconstructed itself and was reborn in its own image. Like the events in our life, these appear to be a series of separate events: sequential bits and pieces of reality.

In fact, they are one whole and seamless thing. This is perhaps the very reason that Dogen includes all of the state before, during, and after enlightenment as the path. He does not even necessarily formally separate Buddhahood from non-Buddhahood, thereby birthing an inscrutable philosophical complexity. ...Hence his delightful reference to us all as "Buddha ancestors."

Why does he do this? Well, maybe he's not as complex as he seems to us. Perhaps all of the expounding turns around one single grand idea.

The first step on the path is just as much a part of the path as the last step on the past. Without a first step, no last step. Dogen's myriad, challenging excursions into the is-ness and not-ness qualities of all and sundry are all aimed at helping us to dispel within ourselves the impressions of fragmentation and to see that wholeness, fragmentation, and reunification into wholeness again are all part of one single thing.

It is a matter of perception that forms fragments and mountains, and it is here in the nature of the relationship between awareness and discriminating mind that reality goes on the chopping block. Awareness is whole, one seamless experience of Truth; discriminating mind, on the other hand, cuts reality into little bits, in the relatively vain hope of understanding it. This activity is a lot like the biologists who feel that we are going to ultimately understand how cells work by separately analyzing every one of the billions of chemical reactions that govern them.

Those who fear that this type of activity represents a potentially serious pitfall of Gurdjieff's practice of self-observation will not find themselves alone; Trungpa expresses exactly the same reservations in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.

Here's the crux of the matter as I formulated it to Neal this morning, while walking the famous dog Isabel:

We all somehow start out believing that transformation arises from mind and alters our perception of the physical state, and all too often, we get stuck there.

In fact, exactly the opposite is true: transformation only arises from a change in the physical state, which alters the perception of mind.

And we learn this from the pebbles and mountains.

Dogen's difference between forcing a person to enter and leave the gate of liberation, and getting the gate of liberation to enter a person, is the difference between mind transforming physics and physics transforming mind. The origin of everything lies within the physical roots of reality, and not within the forms constructed by the mind that encounters them. So if we wish to seek transformation, transformation begins within the body, within the physical reality.

Backbone comes from backbone.

Remember Gurdjieff's adage that everything is material; and, as one of the readers of this blog reminded me yesterday, everything is alive. Materiality itself is a living thing.

We cannot think our way to God. We can, however, break our mountains down and reconstruct them. There is a big risk here; if we want to do this, the beautiful white cliffs of quartz have to go. Everything has to be smashed down into pebbles.

What a horrifying prospect, eh?

In order to seek transformation, we must seek it within a careful study of the machine -- that is, the organism we live in. Of course, many may object to this contention. There are a lot of psychic or psychological practices that people dearly love to indulge in, such as visualization techniques in meditation. One older person--a close friend and teacher of mine these days-- who knew Jeanne DeSalzmann well and worked with her for many years told me that she used to visualize all the time.

It didn't turn out to be all that productive for her. She talked to Madame DeSalzmann about it, and DeSalzman's comment was, more or less, "It won't do for you. You are too thick."

We have to work with our thickness, that is what we have and where we are. If we were meant to inhabit astral or psychological realms right now, we would not be incarnated in bodies. The whole point of work on this level is that we are in bodies. Trying to get out of the body -- out-of-the-body experiences, visualization, astral travel, and so on -- misses the point of why we are here. In our rush to reach the astral plane, we seem to forget that we have a permanent out-of-the-body experience coming up.

That one they call death.

Until that enforced and inevitable moment arrives, the locus of our work is always within the body. Our opportunities for transformation began within the physical foundation, the root reality of our sensation, the connections between the six inner flowers. Not in the thoughts that arise about them.

Chemistry and physics change mind; mind can't change chemistry and physics.

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


This is a picture of Shawangunk coglomerate: the ore body the Shawangunk Mountains in upstate New York are composed of. The conglomerate is the remains of what was, hundreds of millions of years ago, a huge mountainous region mostly composed of quartz. Blindingly white quartz: a quartz filled with light, a quartz that reminds us, perhaps, of noble qualities, of purity. What a sight that must have been in morning sunlight!

It did not last.

The mountains stood at the edge of a sea, and, as they crumbled, trillions of shattered fragments of quartz were rolled for millenia along the shoreline, until they became soft and rounded. Despite this, the quartz did not lose its character. Even in fragmentation, it remained true to its nature.

Eventually this pebbly mixture was buried again, sank beneath miles of overlying sediment, and was subducted until it reached a depth where temperatures and pressures welded it back into an extremely hard, durable quartz ore body, perhaps even harder and more resilient than the original quartz outcroppings from which it came. In early America, because of its hardness, it became a preferred material for use as millstones.

The conglomerate is composed of many individual parts, but has been welded into a durable whole. In this sense, we are reminded of the possibilities that lie in front of us as we attempt to establish an inner unity that can withstand the pressures of ordinary life. No one of these pebbles alone can serve to grind grain, but welded together, they are up to the job. And together, they are beautiful.

We can't achieve unity without pressure and heat.

...I continue to return again and again to the question of how I meet the current set of conditions, which too often seem like pebbles that are trying their best to grind me down. In my resistance to them, I forget that they, too, are true pebbles. Basically, I choose to dislike these outer conditions-pebbles.

These conditions-pebbles are disordered, unruly, uncontrollable, abrasive and unexpected. They are screwing the whole freaking game up.

It seems to me that no matter what we do, collectively, we continue to find ourselves in a position where we meet conditions coming from a state not of confidence and right self-valuation, but of fear and negativity. We are all fear factories; if we look closely, we see that a great deal of our motivation in response to others comes not from any positive place but from fear. It wears a thousand disguises, but unmasked it is always the same.

Negativity is the most insidious condition we inhabit. It is present almost all the time: our preconceptions cause us to meet each moment of our life with a reflexive act of rejection. Even when we don't think we are rejecting, and we recast the rejection in special terms that put a good-looking spin on it, we are still rejecting. This set of conditions, whenever it is, is never good enough. We are perpetually looking for another set of conditions that will come along later and be better. And, paradoxically, we even reject the fact that we are negative.

Coming to terms with the fact that all conditions are in one sense equal--i.e., no matter what happens, we are always here with those conditions right in front of us--seems nearly impossible. Our personality judges everything almost instantaneously, and finds it wanting. In doing so, it rejects the influx of impressions as they stand, rejects life as it arrives, branding it as insufficient in one way or another.

We do this to people, we do it to things, we do it to events, we do it to circumstances. Many years ago, when I first really saw this part of myself in action, I referred to it as the rejecting part. Our rejecting part is bigger than any other part in us. It is so big that we are no longer able to see it. We see only small parts of it that have taken on clever forms of camouflage, disguising it as a part that accepts. It's a big shock if we ever really see it. Then we see we are not what we think we are.

The net effect of this rejection is the starvation of the essence. Here's why:

Essence feeds itself on the immediate incoming experiences of life.

If essence is free to do this -- if our inner chemistry is arranged properly, if we make an effort to open and feed our inner flowers--then essence finds the most ordinary circumstances satisfying. Everything in life, no matter how mundane, feeds us in a special way that cannot be described outside of metaphor or parable.

Christ called this changing water into wine. Another description of it is the peace of God that passes all understanding. The point is that when essence is fed, the entire experience of life changes. We discover that there is a joyfulness within life that we never knew about before. We do not have to base our lives around the premise of rejection. We may still have our negativities, but they do not act as tyrants. We begin to understand that they are not the continents, but the weather. We stop investing in cement and start investing in water.

The pebbles have possibilities.

One of my best friends, a woman who is not in the formal Gurdjieff work but has a great interest in and understanding of the ideas, has pointed out to me many times that Chief Feature seems to arrange itself around fear. Along with its bosom buddies, negativity and judgment, fear forms a triumvirate that rules us by exploiting the inherent weaknesses within personality: habitualism, literalism, dogmatism. (Remember, the original chief action of the organ kundabuffer was to reinforce man's experience of pleasure through repetition.)

Hence we propose chief feature according, logically enough, to the law of three: it is a stable, self reinforcing paradigm.

It needs, perhaps, to be balanced against a trinity formed of essential qualities: Love, positive attitude, acceptance. These grow not from within the mind, but from within physical connections formed within the body, through attention.

There is a tricky part to this: in understanding the idea that we dwell within two natures, we can eventually strike a balance between the ordinary self, the personality, which finds itself locked within this struggle, and a part--the essence--that is not so engaged by it. For some time, these imbalanced parts (with the weight primarily resident in personality and the effort towards essence) must learn to coexist, to participate side by side.

Gradually, with work on inner relationship, essence can get its feet under it. And essence, though weak, is ultimately as clever as personality: once it gains some strength, it finds ways to ensure it's fed. This may be what Dr. Welch was referring to when he offered us the oft-repeated observation that "the Work works."

Of course, so much of this is a work of the organism. It presents itself as psychology, but it depends on organic chemistry--and a more conscious awareness of organic chemistry, at that.


May our inner pebbles of essence merge and harden, even as we progressively attempt to soften the cement of our personality...!

And may your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


This morning was one of those mornings when events seemed calculated to cause strong reaction in me from the very first moment I walked into the office. One little thing after another of the precise type that sets me off went wrong. Nothing major; let's face it, I, like most people in developed countries without debilitating diseases, money, mental problems, or very annoying relatives, am living a relatively easy, carefree life.

My problems aren't serious. For the most part one might say they are to be expected.

...I don't expect them, however; and of course, as usual, I feel the entire world should arrange itself at all times so as to allow me maximum comfort.

I was forced again and again this morning to confront my own negativity as one little thing after another went wrong. From a certain point of view, it was helpful that this exasperating process began right away. I had to deal with enough irritations to start with that by the time I got to my 10:00 am meeting (on a subject that always raises the local level of micro-managerial nitpicking to new highs) I was almost prepared to be cool, calm and collected.

Well, not quite. One of the consequences of studying ourselves as we are as that we are forced over and over again to see how we are.

And we're pretty irritable, aren't we?

In studying my reactions this morning in the meeting, I found myself firmly in the midst of my perennial urge to make sure that everything that is out of place be put back into place immediately. I somehow invariably want things fixed, and fixed in a hurry. As I grow older I like to believe I am outgrowing this reactive state, but I see the likelihood is I'm not. Not very much, anyway. I seesaw between an inner que sera, sera, and the violent urge to fanatically stamp out inner que sera, sera wherever I find it.

This is one of the great delights of being a Libra.

If we attempt to be more patient, are we surrendering to the evil inner god of self-calming? I don't think so. In the midst of centering the Being between the emotional reaction, sensation, and the rational part of thought--presuming it hasn't tethered itself so firmly to the emotional reaction that it gets dragged off down the inner road to perdition-- I actively see the Holy affirming, Holy denying, and Holy reconciling principles at work. Within them I find a possibility of accepting the conditions, which the denying part of me objectively hates. (My inner commentary during the meeting consisted in part of a heartfelt critique of how utterly, insanely stupid most of what we all do in business is. I think Nicholas Taleb's "Black Swan" brand of cynicism may be infecting me.) By the time the meeting was over, I had managed to extricate myself more or less emotionally intact, that is to say, not seething in a mass of destructive reactions. Even, against all odds, reasonably cheerful.

Time once again to invoke the power of the stupid man's Zen:

"It's not so bad, really."

Love to all of you,

...trees, fruit and so on.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ambition vs. Participation

When we meet our moments in our lives, too often, we meet them with ambition.

We always want every moment to be a certain way, to offer a certain kind of support, to provoke stimulation, in other words, to satisfy. We tend to arrive at every moment of life saturated with the need for things to be the way we want them to.

I was discussing this briefly with my local workplace spiritual genius, Annie, who has a lifetime of practice in grass-roots Christianity. This morning, she put it thus: we do not want the will of the Lord to be done, we want our own will to be done.

This is ambition. We don't participate in life, we demand of it.

When one finds oneself in repose, receiving life as it arrives, one has the opportunity to participate more. This may not be some massive, fabulous altered state of higher consciousness, which is what we too often demand of our spiritual work. It might be quite simple. We might just be living, receiving our lives and accepting them.

We won't be fabulous. We will just be.

Chogyam Trungpa spends a good deal of time explaining that ambition, the desire to get somewhere, to be better, to be "good," is basically a product of ego. When Mr. Gurdjieff advised his followers that man cannot "do," he may have been referring to this we are, everything comes from ego, and ego does not do, it demands.

It wants, it needs, it must have.

As stated in the first two of the four Noble truths of Buddhism, we suffer, and the root of our suffering is desire, or demands. So ambition, the desire to get somewhere -- yes, the desire to get somewhere in our spiritual path -- is actually where our suffering begins. We are all so busy trying to get somewhere, we never see where we really are.

My original group leader, Henry Brown, who is dead these many years, God rest his soul, called our effort in spirituality the effortless effort.

The effortless effort is one of receiving and giving, not demanding and taking. To begin to understand this requires a revolution in which everything is overthrown. It's only when we realize that the whole regime is corrupt that anything new becomes possible.

In "Cutting through Spiritual Materialism," Trungpa says:

"We are too keen to learn something, too busy attending to our ambition to progress on the path rather than letting ourselves be in examining the whole process before we start...

...This was the experience of the Buddha. After he had studied numerous yogic disciplines under many Hindu masters, he realized that he could not achieve a completely awakened state simply by trying to apply these techniques. So he stopped and decided to work on himself as he already was. That is the basic instinct which is pushing its way through. It is very necessary to acknowledge this basic instinct. It tells us that we are not condemned people, that we are not fundamentally bad or lacking." (Pages159-160.)

Yogananda said much the same thing. There's plenty of hope out there.

We don't trust in ourselves. We don't have a right valuation of self. If self is a tiny, needful, grasping thing, then all it can grasp and get to satisfy itself is tiny things. It doesn't know that it would be much happier if it stopped wanting things and just saw what it had.

There needs to be a much more expansive and global acceptance of Being within us. Real Being does not need to take and grasp more and more in order to satisfy its self; it is already satisfied when it gets here.

Here's a revolution: we can give ourselves permission to defy the message the Rolling Stones summed up our society with, and start out satisfied! How 'bout that?

That which is already satisfied has no ambition. It offers itself by default the opportunity to participate in life, to inhabit what is rather than bend it to its own will.

We have such beautiful possibilities in front of us. There is so much good that could grow within us and be offered to others. Do we sense this?

Usually, I think we don't.

I'm tempted to continue here, but this seems to be enough for today.

May your trees bear fruit.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

life is the teacher

Lotus flower, West Lake, Hangzhou

Trungpa, it turns out, spends a good deal of time in his "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" discussing the way we solidify life, and thereby remove the life from it.

How to remain fluid?

In today's Gurdjieff work, we discover the corresponding practice of "being in the moment." Admittedly, this practice is an evolutionary aspect of the Gurdjieff work- you won't find the phrase in any books by Gurdjieff or Ouspensky (at least that I know of.) The roots of this practice, which certainly has more of a Zen flavor about it, may well stem from William Segal's interest in Zen, Madame De Salzmann's corresponding support, and the subsequent influx of Zen practices such as sitting, which is now considered an orthodox part of the work even by people who stubbornly resist the influx of other "new" influences. The irony of which should, perhaps, not be lost on us. Put bluntly, the Gurdjieff work must become an evolving organism, or it will die out. And it already is, since it evolves within the practice of every person who engages in it.

Today I attended one of several celebrations of Peggy Flinsch's 100th birthday. For those of you "outside" the formal work, let me just "fill in the blanks" by mentioning that she is one of the few people still alive who not only knew Gurdjieff personally but worked with him directly. He personally chose her, we're told, to read the English translation of "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" because... well, because.

Anyway, one of Peggy's entourage reminded us this afternoon of her adage that life is the teacher.

To be in the moment is to work in life- to be in life fluidly, dynamically, presently. This effort involves an acceptance of conditions, a willingness to inhabit the situation, a warmth and an openness. This means we make an effort to meet our community--both our inner and our outer community--within the same moment, at the same time, and offer an unstinting unity that devolves and evolves from the moment that exists in front of us.

It implies--and demands--a flexibility and a sense of humor that directly opposes the rigidity and grim determination that many daily enterprises get conducted through and with. Trungpa mentions this too; his point, that laughter can often be the sword that cuts through the cement we have in us, and lets the water flow again.

In order to find this place, and work within it from within a personal center of gravity, we need to drop the baggage, drop our assumptions, drop the cement statues we've been constructing and lining our inner garden with. Yes, it's true- gardens need static elements such as walls, borders, statuary and walkways-- but without plants, without flowers, they're not gardens.

So now, perhaps after many years of rather technical study, self observation, and so on, it's the dynamic element we need to take into account and work with. Meeting each other on our own mutual ground, within our humanity, acknowledging our weaknesses, yet warmly supporting each other in exchanges, we find a place where flowers can grow. A place where practice arises within each moment, within life.

Yes, it's true. When it comes to spirituality, I guess I'm a gardener, not a warrior. And maybe that flies in the face of the heroic idea that we should follow the warrior's path and storm the gates of heaven.

My own take on it is this:

You can feed more people honestly with vegetables than you can with a sword.

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

Friday, September 21, 2007


Another one of those days when energies that cannot be described and do not have names show up in the middle of the day and make decisions that cannot be brokered.

I wanted to write a blog about the subject "never mind anyone else," that is to say, the idea that we should not pay attention to other people and how they are, but pay attention to ourselves and how we are.

How are we for ourselves, to ourselves?

Like many early-morning formulations, it turns out these questions, while good ones, do not relate to the present state. And I think perhaps the whole point of undertaking an enterprise like this one is to at least be honest enough to make sure that the writing corresponds to the present state. If one can.

We do not know what we are, or where we are.

We speak of the self as though we know something about the self, but no one has ever seen the self. It might as well be dark energy, a term physicists use to explain properties of the universe that cannot be explained in any current model without invoking a deus ex machina. ...Dark energy has never been seen, and no one can tell what it is. Nonetheless, scientists speak about it as though its existence were a certainty--in the same way that the religious people they so often disdain invoke God to explain properties of the universe that nothing else seems to come to grips with.

Does science have a poor nose for irony? And are the seekers and searchers of truth any less imbued with hubris, as we banter about the dark matter of the self?

Self observation, self discipline, self control.

What is the self?

The self is not something that can be grasped or held; a trillion words will not describe it; no container can hold it, no mathematical equation can describe its arising, position, direction, or momentum. When one thinks it over a bit, it's quite amazing that we have developed so many words to grapple with the concept of being, which is a quality that can only be inhabited within living consciousness, and dies the instant it is pinned down in the killing jar of analysis.

Yet here we find ourselves inside our own personal killing jar. Everyone has one. Or, drawing on my most current analogy, our own personal cement mixer. Everything comes in, we cast it in cement, end of story. In this way, everything that arises in us becomes a funeral monument.

Great to look at. Useless for practical work of any kind.

In the beginning of one of the Gurdjieff movements movies (not, unfortunately, unavailable to the public, a very nearly criminal oversight on the part of the powers that be in the Gurdjieff Foundation) Jeanne DeSalzmann says to the viewer that everything is always in motion, everything is always going up or down, nothing ever stands still.

If we hear this, of course we nod in sage agreement, as though we knew what she was talking about.

But we don't.

Every single one of us is trapped in cement mixer mode. The flexibility that is needed to treat life in a manner other than as a solid object just isn't in the inner air. When and if new and truly flexible things come along within us, they are bewildering, inexplicable. So of course we try to calm down and tame them, and explain them.

More dust, more water, more cement.

Even more criminal on our own part, perhaps, is our insane belief that everything of value that we might find is incredibly delicate. If spirituality, if a real relationship with whatever "self" may be, is that ephemeral and that weak, let's face it, it doesn't stand a chance in this brutal world.

On Saturday we drove upstate and strolled along a relatively undeveloped stretch of river bank on the Delaware River. I watched a monarch butterfly take off and fly away from the riverbank over the trees.

We look at butterflies and see that they are extraordinarily delicate creatures, you can squish them in hand with little or no effort. They weigh so little that any wind would seem to buffet them off their course; they are just the right size to be a snack for a bird. Beauty, yes. Magnificent, delicate, ephemeral, short-lived beauty.

Of course, our impressions of these butterflies are all completely wrong. This butterfly flew off with a strength, a speed, a determination and an aim that would have put some small aircraft to shame. This creature was strong. Not only that, constantly in motion, it travels thousands of miles to winter over in Mexico, a journey that a human being would find terribly difficult without aircraft or motorized vehicles. Far from being defenseless, it is poisonous; there is nothing nice about eating one of these creatures. So nature has endowed beauty with strength. Amazing, flexible, mobile strength that drinks nectar from flowers.

As we engage in inner work, our essence is a caterpillar munching away on the milkweed leaves of our ego. Eventually, if we are lucky, it will form a chrysalis, and something inside it will begin to change a very great deal. When it emerges, when it bursts through the protective skin under which it has wrought its changes, it will not be a weak, delicate thing. Being is tough, resilient, resolute. These are the qualities that attracted people to Gurdjieff. He was as robust as his teaching.

If there is such a thing as self, self lies beneath and within all the qualities that give birth to everything, from the leaf to the munching caterpillar to the chrysalis to the butterfly. Self needs to be expanded to encompass everything, even the moments before self and the moments after self.

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

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Curling up inside

This blog took a bit to get itself started. Plants do not always grow just because one sets their seeds in the soil, any more than cats curl up and sleep where you expect them to.

This morning I awoke at about 2:30 a.m. and spent time within the darkness actively curling up inside the energies that concentrate themselves in the lower part of the torso.

We have so many energies flowing through us in the course of the average day that we don't notice. It's equally so at night, when the body busies itself manfacturing the substances it will need to sustain the consciousness during the following day. As one gradually becomes more familiar with these inner forces, it's worthwhile to study their presence, their strength, the source of their sustenance--presuming, of course, we can locate that--and their effects.

This kind of activity is perhaps not so unorthodox. Gurdjieff, as it happens, advised Ouspensky to become familiar with what he called the "higher hydrogens" and study their effect so that one knew them individually.

Of course I know few people who profess to undertake such a study in their work. Why, I cannot know. Perhaps there isn't so much interest in the kind of precision that type of study takes. Or perhaps it's too vague or inaccessible. I don't know.

It might, however, be worthwhile to cultivate a more intimate relationship with these inner forces. I believe that in its essential practice, meditation--whether we express it as mindfulness in sitting or mindfulness in life-- is all about initiating and feeding a relationship to the finer substances the body can produce. Dwelling within them, accepting them, without manipulating them or clinging to them.

Just studying them to see what they are.

Where do they come from? Where do they go to? What are they doing? We don't know this. We speak of "different states" but do we invest in such different states? Do we pay for them, or try to take them? If we turn such moments and such states into things we want to have, to hold, to own and to repeat again, "the gate becomes more and more distant." And we've all been there, surely.

This clinging, this wish to curl up comfortably within the familiar--even if it's the unfamiliar which has suddenly become familiar (for the grasping mind creates familiarity within the instant)--is the pouring of cement--always supervised by our inner paving company, whose intention is always good, rather than with aim. In grasping we flatten everything.

Flat is safe.

So there I was at 2:30 a.m, curled up inside not-flat, inside depth, attempting to see inside the inside.

This mechanism we inhabit--it's delicate, precise, unfathomable. Perhaps the very beauty of inner study lies in the fact that the landscape--the fences, walls, tiles and pebbles-- from which we arise so directly is so unknown, and so profoundly filled with an invitation to this subtle intimacy.

Let's all get closer to ourselves together this weekend, shall we?

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The gate of liberation

This is Juliet, who has made a successful lifetime practice of inscrutability.

In Nishijima & Cross's translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo, book 3, page 71, Dogen quotes Zen master Seppo as saying:

"The whole earth is the gate of liberation, but people are not willing to enter even if they are dragged."

And Dogen continues: "So remember, even though the whole earth and the whole world is a gate, it is not left and entered easily, and the individuals who get out of it and get into it are not many. When people are dragged they do not get in and do not get out, and when people are not dragged they do not get in and do not get out. The progressive blunder and the passive falter. Going further, what can we say? If we take hold of the person and force it to leave or enter the gate, the gate becomes more and more distant. If we take hold of the gate and get it to enter the person, there are chances for departure and entry."

The quote goes on in a discussion of expedient methods and is well worth reading. However, today I thought I'd just briefly discuss this idea of the gate of liberation.

There is a gate within us. That is, there is an opening within us, a place where something can leave and something can enter.

Now, generally speaking we don't experience our inner state as having closed parts, open parts, apertures or walls. There is just this thing we call a "mind"- which, as Gurdjieff points out, is really just a formatory apparatus, or, a non-intelligent piece of machinery which we inhabit, identify with, and assign a static value to which we refer to as "I."

Except under unusual circumstances, we don't experience the inner state as arising from the unity of intelligence, emotion, and physical function, and we don't see that as we are, we inhabit a form of our own that, in our very unawareness itself, has constricted us. Implicit in our failure to notice walls is a failure to look for gates. If we do, we look for gates in the mind, which is exactly where the walls are.

If we even hear about gates, and then stare at walls for long enough, walls begin to look like gates; soon enough, we convince ourselves that they are gates. Still within the mind, we do not know the difference.

Then we come to the question of liberation. The inference is that there is a way to become free of this state. To walk out of where we are into a new place. On the other side of the gate is something else. It is not a place where we remain forever, perhaps: there is leaving and entering, so it is a flexible state, one that allows for us to keep a degree of freedom in regard to it: which is in itself a prerequisite of liberation.

In order to do this we need to take hold of the gate.

How can that happen? What is the gate? How do we take hold of the gate? How does it enter a person?

I'm sure there are many points of view on this subject. I can only speak from where I am myself, which is not, in its essence, philosophical.

Here is how I find it:

Within us, if we can find it, is a finer materiality that does not arise from the mind.

It is a vibration that gently feeds our Being, leading it in the direction of a more intimate relationship with life: a more sensitive one that includes both the inner and the outer states in a different form of encapsulation. It emerges from flowers, is fed by flowers, and feeds flowers. From it blossoms open, and the blossoms are blossoms of compassion and warmth.

This finer substance lies on the doorstep of the gate of liberation. Within us, discovered, it becomes the whole earth, because we see that there is no earth--no consciousness, no dwelling place where the nascent property called essence can arise and grow-- without it.

It takes time and effort to find this within ourselves. At first, like any wild and untamed animal it is shy and elusive, but with diligence we can befriend the Friend. It is this essential quality of befriending the Friend that Chogyam Trungpa calls us to when he speaks of the Open Way.

This morning, while walking the famous dog Isabel, I thought of it this way:

The outer world is the moon, the planetary body that creates the tidal forces that attract and repel us. As we inhabit it in identification--or attachment, as the Buddhists call it-- we lose ourselves to that gravity. Gurdjieff explained this property of man's existence as the tendency for him to feed the moon--something that was once necessary for the maintenance of the planet, but no longer required.

The inner world is the earth. We need to inherit the earth in order to reside within it, and resist the gravitational attractions that continually consume our inner life. Forming a relationship to the finer materiality within offers us this possibility.

And then, there is the sun...

Well, perhaps that is another subject for another post.

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The upside-down man, and laws of accident

Perhaps the most famous esoteric image of the upside down man is the hanged man in the tarot. This is my own upside-down man, painted in what seems to me to be a much earlier era ( about 19 years ago) of my life. Vast chasms separate me from that time, that age, that state. Impossible, from that then- or so it seems--to predict this now, although they are entirely contiguous.

Yet here I am. And it seems (flying directly in the face of the anti-deterministic hypothesis I posed yesterday) that it couldn't be any other way- that that then was always destined to become this now--irrevocably, irretrievably, inevitably.

Summary: we don't know. We're upside down to begin with: tiny particles in an impossibly huge universe, collapsed even further into the tiny, frenetic singularities of our own egos, blind to nature, blind to consequence...

blind to ourselves.

So how could we possibly know where we're headed? We can't. The element of unpredictability--Gurdjieff would have called it the law of accident--that exists at the quantum level of the universe suggests that everything creates its possibilities through an inexactitude--a potential expressed by an unknowing quality of instability, the possibility that everything could veer off in a new direction at any moment.

Indeed, we find such "lawful inexactitudes" in the development of the rate of vibration built into the very fabric of Gurdjieff's enneagram, where "shocks" are needed to keep everything moving on a predictable course. Gurdjieff, in fact, advises us that these deviations were intentionally created and introduced into the fabric of our universe by God.

The perhaps inevitable conclusion: God wanted it to be possible for things to go "wrong."

We all assume--don't we?" that our idea of the predictable course, of orderly progressions, neatly arranged circumstances that flow from one another, is the most desirable. Never mind the fact that Gurdjieff told us that our "carriage" was designed to travel on rocky, lumpy, uneven--yes, unpredictable-- roads, and that it needed that in order to, as he said, "lubricate the joints." Nope. Never mind that. We're all in the paving business, aren't we, busily smoothing out the road, trying to make sure everything proceeds in absolute defiance--insofar as possible--of the law of accident, in defiance of natural unevenness, in definace of the natural tendency towards and even the necessity of


What if the system does not just need the exactitudes--the potential for "correct" progression, the whole development of "completed" octaves, but also the inexactitudes? What if the law of accident--which Ouspensky so valiantly hoped to crawl out from under by developing-- is inescapable, because it is so fundamental to the universe that everything runs on it?

An uncomfortable question.

We might remind ourselves that in Beelzebub's recounting of our planetary history, even Archangels came under the law of accident and made mistakes. Smacking huge asteroids into planets--i.e., Earth-- where they should not have been smacked.


According to those nit-picking biologists who like to trumpet the absolutely accidental origin of everything--as though there were only one law (personally picked, of course, by them, since as experts they know everything) , the law of accident alone runs the progress of evolution.

They're on to something, of course, because that law is very important in every kind of evolution (including, we might even heretically surmise, spiritual evolution) but it's not the only law. Laws of physics and chemistry constrain the development of biological life so tightly that it's unlikely we could have ended up with anything other than what we see in front of us now.

Ever. Anywhere.

So there appears to be a balance of some kind struck between determinism and random accident. Both order and chaos are necessary. If we didn't have order, we wouldn't recognize chaos when we saw it, and vice versa. This holds true for our inner state. We need to experience dissipation in order to know what containment would be; we must sin, in order to "find the good path;" the fruit of our attentiveness would never arise from anywhere, were it not from the rich and fertile ground of our inattentiveness.

So we have to be upside down sometimes. Just not all the time.

Might as well accept it with grace, as the stars and moon and animals look on.

May your buds birth flowers, and your flowers bear fruit.

Monday, September 17, 2007

We don't know what's possible

I just began reading a book by Nicholas Taleb called "The Black Swan" about the impact of the highly improbable on human life.

Can't say enough good things about this book, which is an exciting investigation of the flaws, errors and outright wrong assumptions rampant in mankind's ordinary mode of "thinking." Go buy it and read it. The prologue alone is worth the price of admission.

The book serves to remind us that we don't know what is possible. Our intellectual, emotional and physical lives are built on an endless series of assumptions that bear little relationship to what actually happens. Gurdjieff himself pointed this out when he mentioned to Ouspensky that men spend an absolutely enormous amount of their energy worrying about things that they think will happen, but almost never spend any time worrying about the things that can, will, and do happen.

Perhaps the whole point is that we can't think of what will happen. And, in fact, Taleb points out--much like Gurdjieff and Dogen--that our experts aren't expert, and that what we think is thinking isn't actually thinking.

The man who swims through the water will always get further than the one who mixes cement into it and then tries to swim.

In the same way that it is nearly impossible to comprehend what might lie in front of us next in the unpredictable conditions we inhabit, it's equally impossible to predict what could happen to us in an inner sense. This means that, as some Zen schools believe, enlightenment could take place at any moment. We just don't know. Making any presumptions--positive or negative-- whatsoever about our possibilities is a mistake.

It brings to mind Jim George who, as I personally witnessed, once stood up in the presence of "mighty and powerful Beings" who were making sage pronouncements about what we couldn't know and couldn't do, and powerfully asserted:

"We don't know what's possible!"

Way to go, Mr. George. Bravo.

Since we don't know what's possible, if we have to make assumptions, to paraphrase Martin Luther, "Since we must assume , let us assume boldly." (He said sin instead of assume, which may mean much the same thing, come to think of it.)

While we are assuming boldly, let us boldly assume. Let us assume that many impossible things are possible. Let us assume that impossible things come true every day.

So anything is possible. And we might as well assume good things are possible for us in our inner life!

One more slightly tangential note that I think deserves a mention.

On Saturday night, at the dinner table, the family and guests were discussing if free will exists.

My stepson Michael brought up the idea that if it were possible (as in some perverse and gnomish theories perhaps it could be) to determine the exact location of every atom, molecule and quanta in the universe at a given moment and calculate the exact sum of all their effects on each other, one could predict exactly what would happen next.

This idea assumes an absolutely deterministic universe. In a universe of this nature no free will would be possible.

We don't live in such a universe. All the reductionist analysis in the world cannot change the fact that at the quantum level, the location and momentum of any given particle exists only as a probability. Ergo, quantum physics offers us free will in a truly scientific form: at the root of physical reality lies an "instability of choice" that allows for an infinite number of possibilities to be manifest--all of them, in their unique individuality, ultimately unpredictable.

We could go further and mention mathematical models which predict that, if the universe is truly infinite--as it rather appears to be at present--then at a relatively low number (low relative to inifinity, that is) the probability of seemingly "impossible" events--such as there being exact duplicates of our solar systems, planets, and ourselves, right down to the exact details of our lives--becomes very nearly 100%.

Kinda scary, I think, so we better not mention that stuff.

May your own improbabilities become manifest in joyous ways!