Sunday, September 16, 2007

Let the water be water

In "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism," Trungpa discusses--among many other things--the tendency we all have to turn everything we encounter into a thing.

I have mentioned before that we all tend to carry our past around like a stone. It often becomes a burden that weighs us down, and a reason to fault ourselves. Speaking as a recovering alcoholic, I know this aspect of existence more intimately than I'd like to.

This weekend I described it to Neal thus: we receive the water of our lives--the flowing, constantly mutable series of events and impressions that arrive on our perceptual doorstep-and the first thing we do is take the dry, dusty lime and sand of our previous impressions and associations and mix them into it.

What we end up with is cement.

We like to do this, because by making cement out of life as it arrives, we think we are getting something--if you'll excuse the pun--more concrete that way. Something lasting, something that will serve us in the future, because we own it.

As if we could own anything--the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we tread on.

We don't see that by making concrete, we are actually just creating more weight to carry. If we just let the water be water, we're better off. If we have to carry anything, better we carry water than concrete. At least water can quench our thirst. All concrete can do is wear us out.

Don't get me wrong. We all need a foundation upon which to build, but the foundation should not be a set of static concrete blocks laid down in a rigid square. The foundation of practice is in the body. In other words, the establishment of the beginning of where we come from within the present state of sensation is where we build foundation. If there is a rock on which we build our church, this would be it. Not rocks made of previous experiences, good or bad, which we want to cling to.

The body is our continent, the place where our inner civilization arises. Conversely, our emotions are the continental weather: wind and rain, drought, tornadoes, heat, and ice. The weather is force: motive, exciting, compelling. Every emotional event seems utterly convincing and exciting.

Unfortunately, we constantly mistake the weather for the continent. We want what we consider to be the "good" weather in our lives to be permanent. And because we generally lack any intelligent discrimination, even destructive elements of our emotional life such as resentment and jealousy easily become "good"in our eyes.

So we desperately cling to our likes and dislikes, our loves, our hatreds, a thousand other emotional reactions. Unfortunately, by attempting to turn them into something solid, we twist them out of shape. When you try to tie something down that by its very nature needs to be in movement, it will eventually wither and die, no matter how hard you try to nourish it.

The movement needs to be constant, it needs to be accepted, but we cannot allow ourselves to become the weather. Unless the feet of our mind are firmly rooted in the soil of the continent, this emotive force drags us in every direction willy-nilly. Gurdjieff describes a man fallen prey to the vissitudes of his emotional weather both in the last chapter of Beelzebub and in Views From the Real World.

It would be helpful for us to begin to really discriminate between the continent of body and the weather of emotion by applying our intelligence as third force. It's this three-centered balance within ordinary life that can help us discover what Trungpa called "The Open Way:" a way defined by warmth and compassion, intelligence and engagement, and perhaps above all, a right self-valuation that affirms our essential worth, even under the most adverse of changing circumstances.

Ultimately, if we don't tinker with the water of our life--mix in the sterile dryness of our attitudes and harden it--the water of life becomes a medium of support. We float on the water of our entire life--all the impressions we have ever had--and let them buoy us up in this present moment.

There's a true joyfulness in this, even in the midst of the trials we are all required to face.

So: let the water be water.

And may your trees bear fruit.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Confrontation carries with it the meaning of conflict, of difficulty, of something to be avoided. Nonetheless, we all recognize that it is sometimes necessary. Perhaps we are forced to confront an uncomfortable truth about ourselves or our lives; we are required to confront an adversary who has a destructive wish; we confront our family members or friends when we disagree with them.

This is all outer confrontation. It pales in comparison to the need for inner confrontation: the moment when we really come up against how we are within, how confused and poverty-stricken our reactions and attitudes are, how saturated with fantasy our imaginations are.

Inner confrontation is, in fact, almost constantly required. We need to develop enough presence to police the inner state, to examine each associative arising, to question it ruthlessly.

This does not mean to examine ourselves like the Spanish Inquisition. Inner confrontation should never enlist that personal Torquemada each one of us nurses; no, he cannot be invited under any circumstances. The confrontation must instead be a compassionate confrontation, one in which we face our inner state with love, and discover a care-filled willingness to go against the destructive impulses--the immeasurable and unrelenting temptations--that flit through the emotional weather of our ordinary state. I say emotional weather, because what we so often find ourselves locked in struggle with is a powerful emotive impulse of one kind or another.

Emotions breed identification. Identification prevents confrontation. If there's no separation from conditions, if we have tilled no soil and cultivated no depth that can offer us a refuge from the temptation of immediate conditions, then we become the conditions.

Conditions cannot confront themselves. They require an opposing force--not, however, one that acts through force, which is what we usually deploy when resisting our impulses. Instead there needs to be a solidity, a sincerity. This doesn't have to be a powerful force; what it needs is to be intact. We need to be willing to look ourselves right in the whites of our inner eyes as we manifest. How are we? What are we doing right now? This is what Gurdjieff called the separation of the self from the self.

This inner confrontation has an inestimable positive value, as long as it isn't conducted in a belligerent manner. It's very important to avoid the self-deprecation typical of so much of our introspection, to confront even that, and bring something more wholesome to the situation.

In the end, we may find we can confront and oppose ourselves with honor, dignity, and respect.

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Depth perception

For a moment, writing within this present moment.

Now, perhaps, read within this moment. If you wish.

When impressions penetrate into the organism in a different way, we discover what it means for life to acquire depth: not intellectual depth, but a depth born of the sensations that arise within the moment.

In sleep, there is a flatness. We don't know that, because when we are contained within flatness, there is no awareness of depth, or even the existence of depth.

Depth is love; depth is compassion; depth is sensitivity. Because we sincerely believe we are--at least in part--experiencers and perceivers of these qualities, we make no real attempt to acquire them. We are unable to discriminate between flat land, mountains, hills, and valleys, because we know only flat land, and mistake it for mountains, hills, and valleys.

Depth is both within and without: there is only depth. In dividing within from without, we accidentally erase the dimension from our perception. It's only when we reside within and without, simultaneously, that we discover there is such a thing as depth.

Depth is alive. If we can find it, depth will not let go of us so easily, because she is a jealous mistress. She has been lonely for so long that once company arrives, she does not want to let it leave. In fact a romance springs up quite readily between depth and Being; surprisingly, depth always keeps her toes in the pool one way or another, once we offer her some water.

There is depth within breath; depth within sight; depth within the body and depth within the mind. A cultivation of the expression of depth within Being can begin anywhere.It can begin directly.

It can begin now.

This morning I came across a further remark in Dogen's Shobogenzo about perseverance which I find compelling:

"The Budhha's supreme and fine truth is to persevere for vast kalpas in difficult conduct and painful conduct, and to endure what it is hard to endure. How can one hope to seek the true vehicle with small virtue and small wisdom, and a trivial and conceited mind? On another occasion he says , "The Dharma seal of the Buddhas is not got from other people."

"This right dharma-eye treasury has been passed on in face-to-face transmission by the raising of an eyebrow and the winking of an eye; it has been given with body, mind, bones, and marrow; it has been received with body, mind, bones, and marrow; it has been transmitted and received before the body and after the body; and it has been transmitted and received on the mind and outside of mind." (Nishijima and Cross translation, Book 3, page 53, Dogen Sangha press.)

To expound the Dharma is to live within depth.

You cannot get this from other people. It arises within, from wells to the roots of trees. Nourished by water, encouragement, and light, flowers bloom and fruits ripen. In this life, every aspect is necessary, every condition sufficient.

Today, tomorrow, may we find our depth in togetherness.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Flowers, in teeth-gnashing conditions

Today was a day when life seemed to arrange itself strictly in the interests of promoting frustration. It took 2 1/2 hours to drive to work (it's usually an hour) and just about every annoying thing that can happen at work happened twice.

This is the kind of day when only a sound inner foundation can sustain one's sanity. Time and again I found myself neatly divided between the ordinary frustration, and consequent emotional reaction, of life, and the positive sustenance that a relationship with the inner flow of energy can produce.

It reminds me of the remark Madame De Salzmann left us with before she died:

"Be there in relation to a force. Then it doesn't matter so much, what happens."

Like so many of Dogen's anti-dialectical constructions, which by being both true and not true transcend polarity through unity, the proposition allows us to inhabit two worlds simultaneously: the ordinary world, with its absolute, inevitable, and in fact entirely lawful manifestations, and an inner world that operates under a set of laws more independent of circumstance.

There's no escaping conditions. There is no escaping the superficial, ordinary reaction to conditions. There is the opportunity to invest in conditions, to allow them, and our reactions to them, to feed us in a different way. As long as we are acquiring food from conditions, and are aware of that, by relationship to the organism, we are already not so identified with them. So there once again is the value of sensation--for me, in this case, writ large within the context of an ordinary business life.

...My wife Neal just asked, "what is the sound of one tooth gnashing?"

I am tempted to try and say something poetically clever to wrap this up, but it's been a trying day, and the brain wants to flake.

I think I'll let it.

Let us wish together: may any clenched teeth we encounter tomorrow be adorned with the glorious flowers of inner work-!

Monday, September 10, 2007

persistence, part two

I will warn you in advance, this is going to sound/look contrived. When I write about something one day, and then discover it in my Dogen reading the following morning--which keeps happening to me--I always feel obliged to report it, bogus though it may seem.

...This kind of synchronicity keeps smacking me in the face. What can I say?

We find ourselves together, for this moment, in Chapter 48 of the Shobogenzo, "Expounding the Mind and Expounding the Nature."

For those who do not believe that intellect is a real and material force, necessary for the full understanding of truth, this chapter is essential reading. However, today we're just going to take a look at what Dogen says in book 3, page 46: (Nishijima and Cross translation, Dogen Sangha Press.)

"...from the time we establish the bodhi-mind and direct ourselves towards training in the way of the Buddha, we sincerely practice difficult practices; and at that time, though we keep practicing, in a hundred efforts we never hit the target once. Nevertheless, sometimes following good counselors and sometimes following the sutras, we gradually become able to hit the target. One hit of the target now is by virtue of hundreds of misses in the past; it is the maturation of hundreds of misses. Listening to the teachings, training in the truth, and attaining the state of experience are all like this. Even though yesterday's attempts to expound the mind and to expound the nature were a hundred misses, the hundred missed attempts to expound the mind and to expound the nature yesterday are suddenly a hit today."

A little later, Dogen continues: "The Buddha-way, at the time of the first establishment of the will, is the Buddha-way; and at the time of realization of the right state of truth, it is the Buddha-way. The beginning, the middle, and the end are each the Buddha-way. It is like someone walking 1,000 miles: the first step is one in 1,000 miles and the thousandth step is one in 1,000 miles. Though the first step and the thousandth step are different, the 1,000 miles are the same."

These comments reinforce and underline the oneness of everything: every result is composed of all the efforts that went into it, not just the last one. All efforts and all results are part of truth.

Even the "failed" effort cannot be separated from the Truth.

So there are no failed efforts; there are only efforts, and there is only Truth. The first effort is as important as the middle effort, and the last effort.

In "Branching Streams flow in the Darkness," Suzuki Roshi speaks of how his own dullness and stupidity ultimately became a vital asset in his search. They were what supported his own persistence, long after the shining stars around him had burned themselves out.

This means, for me, that when I have a disorganized and seemingly unproductive sitting, like the one that I had this morning, I can accept it in the surety that a good coin, even when bent, is still made of true metal.

And I think that perhaps, in the end, it is not the silver, brass, or gold that we pay with, but rather the willingness to pay that matters.

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

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Persistence, and other aspects

The modern science of geology was born during the Victorian era. During this period, the generally accepted understanding of landscape was that it was formed gradually, over immense periods of time. Erosion, sedimentation, burial, compression, uplift- all of this took place slowly and steadily. It wasn't until the twentieth century that the essentially cataclysmic and sensational nature of many geologic processes was understood, and added to the overall picture of how landscapes form.

Mirroring this sensibility, during the 700's, Northern Chinese Ch'an (Zen) schools understood enlightenment as a gradual practice; the southern schools, however, maintained that enlightenment was sudden and immediate. The competing arguments eventually became counterproductive and even distracting to practice.

Consequently, Ch'an master Sekito Kisen eventually wrote the famous Sandokai poem which attempted to bridge the gap between the two schools. (Suzuki Roshi's excellent book Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness discusses the poem, and many other Zen ideas. Highly recommended reading.)

The easy way out for everyone is to contend that both points are true: enlightenment is immediate, and enlightenment is gradual. This, however, is a strictly philosophical solution. It's a bit harder to implement anything on the ground floor of practice.

In this day and age, everyone wants to race to the top. The ground floor isn't interesting to us. We're all in a way big hurry. It's hard to remember we're not in the hedge fund management business, where whole lifetimes of salary get earned in a single week. It takes time to earn anything worthwhile.

In AA meeting rooms one often sees a sign that says :"The elevator to sobriety is broken. Please use the steps."

Yesterday it occurred to me that in my own experience, everything that becomes possible, becomes possible because of persistence. One must be willing to make an effort not once, not ten times, not a hundred times, but ten thousand times. In other words, the foundation of inner practice is indeed gradual, magnificently geologic in its time scale.

Indeed, persistence pays off in something that may appear to happen instantaneously. Earth movements work like this. For a thousand years, perhaps, plates move imperceptibly along a fault line until enough pressure has built up, and suddenly bang! An earthquake occurs. The earthquake alters the landscape immediately, tangibly.

We now know that all of the work that went into creating the energy that ultimately caused that change was hidden from ordinary sight.

And think about this one... exactly what do we seek in our inner landscape... one earthquake after another?

For myself, I am dogged in my persistence, and even actively averse to attempting to storm the gates of heaven. I'm not a warrior but a gardener: not a scaler of walls, but a cultivator of flowers. There is no need to race to heaven.

As Suzuki said in Branching Streams (p.71):

"Just to feel good, we study, and just to feel better we practice Zazen. No one knows what will happen to us after sitting for one, two, or ten years. No one knows, and it is right that no one knows. Just to feel good we sit Zazen, actually. Eventually that kind of purposeless practice will help you."

Well, of course, I must confess my own practice is hardly purposeless. But his insight remains valid: persistence must become the heart of practice. Impatience only serves our dissipation. Within attentive containment, active persistence, we may discover a true connection to the heart.

In the meantime, we need to live this ordinary life,a best we can, with utmost joy. As I said to my wife yesterday:

You gotta live a little, or else you'll never notice it when you're dead.

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

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Narcissim, egoism, conscious egoism, and the three ways

Today we're going to examine various levels of self-interest, and what motivates them, from a somewhat unique point of view.


The mythological character Narcissus fell in love with his own image as reflected in a pool of water. His love was a love of the body and its perceived beauty, a love of the physical nature of things and of appearances. One might say there was an attachment to the self born of the body.

We can perhaps examine this in contrast to the Gurdjieffian "legominism," or wise teaching, passed on by the (historically unknown) avatar Ashieta Shiemash:

"Faith of body is stupidity, Love of body depends only on type and polarity, Hope of body is disease." (Beelzebub, p.330, new edition.)

Narcissus fell victim to a form of self-interest connected to the physical. We might also compare his love to the first way, the way of the fakir, who attempts to perfect himself through work with the body.

As Gurdieff told Ouspensky, the first Way is fundamentally incomplete:

Faith of the body is stupidity. Whatever one develops through this facility, it is not informed through intelligence.

Love of body depends only on polarity and type. Because the emotional center has not been developed, the emotional foundation of this work is unstable.

Hope of body is disease. The body is a temporary vessel. "...Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal...." (matthew 6:19). Expecting our salvation through it is delusional.

As with the way of the fakir, Narcissus' self-interest was not a conscious love. It was informed by the body, but not by the emotions or the mind. His love manifested, rather, within his subconscious mind, as symbolized by water.

In our rush to condemn narcissism, we sometimes forget that it isn't all bad. Narcissus' fate, after all, was to end as a beautiful flower. In keeping with the idea of "Inner outer considering"
we might want to remind ourselves that in everyone, there is a place for this kind of self-interest. Denying that it exists would be sheer foolishness. It is in the knowing of the place it has that we take the measure of its value.


Now we come to egoism. In a clinical sense, the word " Ego" is defined as meaning "the self," but in general usage the term egoism is usually used to denote excessive preoccupation with one's own well being and interests.

It occurred to me this morning, as I was walking the famous dog Isabel, that most of us would probably agree egoism as we generally understand it arises from an emotional motive force. Strong egoists usually manifest as powerful emotional promoters of their own interests. So here we see attachment to self through the emotions.

Hence egoism might be compared to the way of the monk, the way of self-love as understood not through the physical--or moving-- center, but the emotional center.

At its best egoism can produce wonderful results. In the Gurdjieff work, it is certainly agreed that everyone needs it. In Ashiata Sheimash's aphorisms (once again from Beelzebub, see link,) excessive involvement with feeling--or emotion-- is characterized as follows:

"Faith of feeling is weakness; love of feeling evokes the opposite; hope of feeling is slavery."

In other words, as with excessive reliance on the way of the body, you can't run and you can't hide. each effort applied to the emotions, each effort that comes through an attachment to the work of ego, produces an effect that is quite the opposite of the intended one.

Faith of feeling is weakness. Exactly as Gurdjieff told Ouspensky, the way of the monk produces an emotional perfection without the strength to support it.

Love of feeling evokes the opposite. It's self evident that excessive egoism engenders negative reactions in others.

Hope of feeling is slavery. To become enmeshed in and rely on on the emotional impulse of life is to lose one's self in a powerful form of identification.

Conscious egoism

Conscious egoism is the force Gurdjieff felt a man truly needed in life if he wished to develop. We can easily find comparisons to the third Way, the way of the yogi, which Gurdjieff advised was the most powerful of the three ways, explaining that a man who mastered the yoga of the intellect would, at least, know what he needed to do to perfect his other centers.

Conscious egoism
is emotional force informed by intelligence. In a sense, we're applying a "cheat" here, because we're already speaking of two centered work, but the bottom line is that the beginning of conscious egoism begins with consciousness, or, an intelligent awareness. Again, from Ashiata Shiemash's legominism:

"Faith of consciousness is freedom; love of consciousness evokes the same in response; hope of consciousness is strength."

Faith of consciousness is freedom. Confident belief in consciousness is liberating.

Love of consciousness evokes the same in response.
Awakened awareness does not provoke polarity.

Hope of consciousness is strength.
Informed by intelligence, weaknesses can be overcome.

Yes, conscious egoism can be construed as attachment to self through the intelligence, but I think Gurdjieff's point was that in his ordinary state, man cannot avoid attachment to self.

Of course it's true, the idealism of the buddhists presumes an ability to develop "non attachment to self" but this is a very lofty goal. From where we begin, attachment to self is always present.

One might say, it was Gurdjieff's contention that since we will always have a devil we have to make a deal with, best that the deal be an intelligent one.

Unless all three ways are informed by intelligence--unless there is an intelligent three-centered work--we may get the "bad results" that Jeanne De Salzmann repeatedly warned J. G. Bennett about, as recounted in his book "Idiots in Paris."

The Fourth Way

I'm pondering here, thinking out loud. This is far from a conclusion.

It's a tricky thing, this Fourth Way of Gurdjieff's. Although a combination of the three traditional ways, it is so clearly born of an intelligent understanding-- that is, the third way--that we are forced to give the third way its due. In the fourth way, we might consider the idea of the body as denying force, the emotions as affirming force, and the intelligence as reconciling. That is to say, unless conscious intelligence intervenes as third force, the fourth way cannot be born.

Once again, we revisit the idea that both Master Dogen and Gurdjieff saw spiritual effort as requiring, above all, an intelligent effort: one that asks us to combine "the science of the West and the wisdom of the East."

Then we seek.

I planned to say a few words about essence here, but the piece is long enough. We'll save it for tomorrow.

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

Friday, September 7, 2007

new blog! check it out...

A new blog....

Not satisfied

Yesterday I thought I had about three good ideas for new blog postings. I even jotted a good deal of one of them down.

Yesterday's post was one of those three, inevitably, the one that I found most compelling. My wife crabbed about that post, because she was concerned that I talked about the experience of bliss, and prana, as being available to everyone. She was concerned that a lot of people might not be able to relate to the idea.

I don't feel too guilty about it. My contention is not a new one. Paramahansa Yogananda said the same thing many times. Certainly, I'm not in his league, but if he felt it was okay to tell people you can acquire a direct, constant, and immediate sense of spiritual bliss, why shouldn't I? ...Well, maybe I am a bad person for suggesting this. If the idea bothers you, forget I said it.

Mea Culpa.

Anyway, today I started to write a blog about warriors and Gardens and then I realized I wasn't satisfied with it.

I began to write a second blog about yesterday's visit to a colorful Tibetan masseuse who has a wacky, overgrown garden, and I wasn't satisfied with that.

All of this finally raised questions in me about just what "satisfying" means.

Let me sketch that out a bit more. I'm at work today, and there is no particular reason to feel satisfied. I have been hit with one meltdown situation after another in my business, two of my three assistants are out on vacation, and my boss has been asking for nonsensical charts and reports that have nothing to do with actually making our merchandise and getting it to the customer. My daughter's college has once again delayed up her financial aid package, which drives me nuts.

Today, I deal with this nonsense in a spirit of cheerful cooperation. Because of the organic support I derive from my inner work, I feel generally joyful even as the fan sprays it on me, locally and globally. The support is invulnerable, in a certain sense, because it is not built on the instability of the emotions; it is built within the organic structure of the organism itself. I can keep going back and touching it because it is solid, even when everything else keeps changing.

Every time I touch it, it reminds of presence: "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding."

That's satisfaction.

All of this reminds me of the need to rediscover and enliven the organic structure within ourselves that supports us. It's this endoskeleton that counts, that gets us through these moments when life is a mess. If we don't spend the time to try and awaken the parts within us that create the endoskeleton, we are nothing but soft underbelly. Every difficult event that comes along is a blow to the gut.

Participating more actively in the flow of the inner energy, attending to it more deliberately, can bring satisfaction even when nothing is going on.

Perversely, this illogical overall sense of inner satisfaction is one of the difficulties I face in moments like today, where I am trying to write the blog and nothing seems to work. The odd thing is, I'm still satisfied. Part of me says, "Well, who cares? I don't have to post to the blog today."

While I see that I am already entirely satisfied without posting, another part considers that there is an obligation here to make this effort for the readers who come here seeking, so to speak, a "chocolate chip or even oatmeal raisin cookie" to feed their work today. Of course not every cookie I bake is that savory; there are times when the oven isn't hot enough, or I can't mix a batter in correct proportions. But I have, so to speak, put myself in the restaurant business, so here I am, obliged to serve. Whether I am satisfied or not with my service, I have to offer it, unless I hang up a "closed" sign.

I think that this paradigm of service and satisfaction deserves more examination on my part. I am here on this planet to serve; it does not matter whether I am satisfied or not: my role is to act as a servant for others in every area of life. So I have to go forward and serve, regardless of my satisfaction.

It's true that a satisfied servant does better work. But the servant has to find his own satisfaction first; he cannot count on those he serves to be satisfied, no matter how well he does his job.

This slowly developing sense of overall satisfaction that derives from the state of the organism itself leads me to "do" less and less than I used to. Many of the urges that I used to have to make art, play guitar, and so on, don't seem that important. Just the direct, ordinary experience of whatever is happening in life at that moment seems to be quite sufficient to produce enough stimulation and satisfaction. I come home intending to play some guitar, and at the end of the evening I find out I haven't done that, and it doesn't bother me. I don't feel I have missed anything, and I don't feel guilty. This is so unlike me that it is difficult to explain.

My original group leader, who brought me into the work many years ago, is in her mid-80s, and has similar experiences. She told me not so long ago that she often sits around during the day feeling entirely satisfied just by absorbing the impressions of life around her, and that not much else really seems necessary. She expressed concern that maybe there was something wrong with this.

I don't think so. I think that in moments of this kind we reach a relationship with our essence, which takes in the impressions of the world quite directly, digests them, and understands that our purpose in service here is to perceive, not to deploy the weapon of our artifice on everything we encounter.

One final note in this somewhat rambling set of observations about satisfaction and service. This morning, I had a moment when I saw that it is entirely possible all we are is food for something higher, just as the parable about the magician's sheep in "in search of the miraculous" suggests. (illustration)

What if that is our role? Should we be frightened or frustrated? Should we feel useless or used?

I don't think so. If this is our only role--if this is how we must serve-- then, as servants, we must seek to do it well.

If we must be food for something, better we be food for Angels than food for swine.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Alcohol, drugs, and the 99% masters

As most of you who read this blog regularly already know, I have an intimate association with sobriety that dates back to almost 26 years ago, when at the age of 26, I realized I was an alcoholic, and made a solemn vow never to drink or take drugs again.

I am now going to raise some questions about a few spiritual teachers that get discussed in my blog, and their infamous abuse of alcohol and drugs.

It's well-known that Gurdjieff was a prolific drinker. Ouspensky, by some accounts, took to the bottle towards the end of his life and died dissipated, disillusioned, despondent. Chogyam Trungpa was a well-known abuser of alcohol. He unashamedly used other chemicals such as LSD.

In regard to all three of these men, I have heard myriad excuses for the behavior, some manufactured by the abusers themselves, others manufactured by loyal adherents to their teaching.

I don't buy any of them.

Anyone can drink. It is not good or bad to drink, from a moral point of view, unless in drinking you do direct harm to others. If you harm yourself, that's your own karma.

It is, however, unacceptable to abuse alcohol or drugs for any reason from a spiritual point of view. Anyone who claims that alcohol enhances the spiritual experience is full of crap. The same goes for drugs. Under certain unusual and very select conditions, drugs may be useful, but in the general sense of things they are nothing but damaging. Claiming that drugs or alcohol enhance one's spirituality is just as stupid as claiming that they enhance one's artistic or social abilities. The folks in AA have a little word for this claim called "denial."

If reading this makes you uncomfortable--if you are already erecting a defense of your drinking or drug use as you read this--now would be an excellent time to examine that reaction carefully, because you are already in trouble with the substances, and they are the ones speaking to you and through you.

I bring this up because there is a major alternative.

If one begins to work in a right way within oneself, and one understands how to bring the body into relationship so that the substance of the Holy Spirit, or prana, is available on not just an intermittent but a regular basis, there is absolutely no need for any drugs.


Cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana -- almost all drugs are shabby substitutes for an experience of inner bliss that should be produced on a daily basis by the organism itself. I suppose, if one is too lazy or uninterested to do the inner work that is required to open one's self to higher influences, taking the drugs makes a certain perverted kind of sense. However, to anyone who has opened the inner flowers, the very idea of drugs becomes absurd.

Can anyone legitimately claim they want to wake up with hangovers, a mouth that tastes foul, risk mental illness, heart attacks, and ultimately risk contracting cancer of the lungs, esophagus, stomach, or bowels--just so that they can feel good?

Just how good do we need to feel?

Would feeling dead be good enough?

I have a great deal of hard-won personal experience with drugs and alcohol. I know exactly what they do. I also have a great deal of experience with prana, and although I would not tell you that I know exactly what it does--there are mysteries in this work which come to us without words for explanation-- I know that it can be constantly present, and feed one's life in a new way.

The fact that this substance seems to be mythological to most people, and ephemeral even to those who are to some extent familiar with it, is immaterial. The fact is that if you open your flowers you can be fed in a way that will give you a constant connection to a bliss which cannot be described or contained within words.

Make no mistake about it. There is a right work within the organism that is objective in nature and can attain such results. All men have available to them the option of becoming the master of their own inner substances, rather than the victims of chemicals they ingest.

All of this raises the question for me of why Gurdjieff and Trungpa, who were clearly adepts at many forms of practice, smoked and drank.

I can only conclude that they missed something. (and apparently Ouspensky missed even more, the poor man.) They were masters, but I would call them 99% masters. They knew everything, except that they didn't know everything. Where was their daily understanding of joy, of residence within bliss?

Were they so desperately hungry for a regular contact with God that they had to seek Him in earthly bottles?

These questions do not invalidate the teachers or the teachings. They were real teachers, and they left us real teachings. I follow them myself with very great interest and utmost respect.

I will not, however, subscribe to the belief that they were infallible. In the end, perhaps it is their weaknesses themselves that make them believable, and attractive, to me. I, after all, share the same weakness.

The difference is that, as a mere 1% master, at least I know what I should not be putting in my body.

Beware of 99% masters. It's that 1% they don't know that'll bring you down, every time. It's better to be a 1% master of your own, than to sign on to someone else's 99%.

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The four elements of social relations

In Buddhism, there are four ordinary life-practices considered as important to one who pursues the Buddha's truth. All of them might fall under the umbrella of what Gurdjieff called "external considering."

Dogen writes about these four practices in the Shobogenzo, chapter 45, "Bodaisatta-Shisobo," or, "Four Elements of a Bodhisattva's Social Relations." In the Nishijima and Cross translation (volume 3, page 25), they are cited as follows:

"First is free giving. Second is kind speech. Third is helpful conduct. Fourth is cooperation."

As one might expect--as usual--Dogen has eloquent, wonderful things to say about the value of these practices; recommended reading. You don't need to be a Buddhist to see the merit in these concepts, from the outer point of view.

Today, however, let's examine these same concepts from an inner point of view, and see what they might mean in relationship to inner practice.

In my own experience, outer practice reflects inner practice, so in order to practice these four elements of relationship outwardly, we first need to attempt to understand and practice them inwardly. (Of course, one might argue that by outward practice one eventually acquires a level of experience that translates to inward practice--Gurdjieff recommended that one pretend one had a quality one wished to acquire, in order to move in that direction, and one of my yoga-savvy friends has more than once suggested to me his own interesting versions of the same practice.)

In the inner sense, free giving means offering ourselves to ourself. In self-observation, we willingly offer to ourselves what we are. Whatever we are, it is available to us, and we can render it up unto ourselves without reservations. No constriction, no artificial manipulation of what we are, how we are, where we are.

Chogyam Trungpa wrote about this in "Cutting through Spiritual Materialism:" (Shambala press, 1973, page 48)

"Marpa was just an ordinary person, involved in living every detail of his life. He never tried to be someone special. When he lost his temper, he just lost it and beat people. He just did it. Religious fanatics, on the other hand, are always trying to live up to some model of how it is all supposed to be. They try to win people over by coming on very strong and frantic, as though they were completely pure and good. But I think that attempting to prove that you are good indicates fear of some kind."

Free giving is giving ourselves to ourselves, fearlessly.

Kind speech is the inner act of compassionate treatment of self. As we see how we are, we see without judgment. We engage in an inner dialog that is positive, supportive, forgiving. There's no need to beat ourselves up because we can't remember ourselves, or we don't work, or cannot "do." No, instead, we kindly, compassionately, lovingly accept what we are in our inner dialogs.

Helpful conduct is assisting ourselves as best we can in our inner effort. As we turn inward, as we observe, as we encounter ourselves, we attempt to support ourselves by making choices that further our aim, and help foster non-destructive relationship with both inner and outer circumstances. We practice conservation: containment. We attempt to order our inner life so as to make more energy available for our work.

Cooperation is the effort to encourage inner unity. As we discover our various parts, we make efforts to bring them into relationship in inner community. Cooperation fosters the growth and opening of our inner flowers.

So all of these meritorious outward practices have tangible value in relationship to the question of our inner practice.

Gurdjieff might have called it "inner outer considering."

...Personally, I think Dogen would have liked that one.

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

worlds and flowers

Today, let's take a look at the relationship between Gurdjieff's ideas about worlds, and the six inner flowers.

The third of the five "obligolnian strivings" which every being should engage in, according to Gurdjieff, is "the conscious striving to know ever more and more about the laws of world-creation and world-maintenance."

Of course there are many ways of understanding this task. The first important way of understanding every task that Mr. Gurdjieff suggests, however, is understanding it from the point of view of our own personal inner work and our own development.

In this regard, let's remind ourselves that to know more and more about the laws of world creation and world maintenance is to not only know about the laws of the universe, the solar system, the planet we inhabit, and so on--all of which are valuable and, in my estimation, indispensable --but to above all know the laws of our own inner world, which we are in the continuous act of attempting to create. (See "the inner solar system".)

In understanding the inner solar system from the point of view of the enneagram, we see that every center, or planet--or flower--within us is the note "do" of an octave below us. That is to say, each center represents a higher authority for an entire world that exists on the level beneath us. So as we begin to take responsibility for the inner life of our various centers, develop a relationship with them, and bring them into relationship with each other, we are engaged in the act of world creation and world maintenance.

Just think about this. It is amazing, remarkable, miraculous.

We ourselves are fully responsible for the creation of entire worlds on the level below us. These are worlds we do not even know about under ordinary circumstances. We do not understand that we engage in the law of reciprocal feeding with these worlds, just as we engage in this same reciprocal feeding with the level above us.

The bliss of the Holy Spirit that can suffuse us as we open ourselves to the higher is a natural product of the movement of energy into us. In the same way, an equivalent bliss arises and resides within each of our centers as we invest ourselves within them, take responsibility for them.

Each center -- each flower that can open within us -- represents the highest force available in the action of the lower world that it resides within and presides over as "do." It provides the necessary shocks for the development of those worlds. In this way, we create within ourselves worlds, that create worlds, that create more worlds. And above us, in our completed development, should we achieve it, we represent individual notes in a larger world.

Whenever I speak of the four great actions of flowers within us--Budding, Opening, Receiving, and Reproducing--I speak specifically of this action of creating worlds, which is a mystery we all have the opportunity to participate in.

Stop for a moment and take a look at every object around you. Every object you see is created by the eternal budding, opening, receiving, and reproducing of flowers in space.

When Dogen says that everything is flowers, he also speaks of this relationship of worlds and of bliss. Let's take a look at a few other quotes from that extraordinary chapter "Kuge" in the Shobogenzo.

The first quote (taken from, like all my Dogen quotes, Nishijima and Cross's translation as published by Dogen Sangha Press) is an eloquent piece of poetic prose describing the law of octaves:

"Flowers in space exist on the basis of unfolding from the ground, and the whole ground exists on the basis of the opening of flowers. So remember there is a principle that flowers in space cause both the ground and space to unfold."

In this chapter he also discusses the law of three: "Because the triple world which we are experiencing now is the five petals opening of flowers in space, it is best to see the triple world as the triple world. The triple world is this real form of all dharmas. It is this flower form of all dharmas; and all dharmas, from these to others beyond imagination, are flowers in space and fruit in space."

We might ask ourselves, why there are so many terms for these locations in the body? Yoga called them chakras; Gurdjieff called them centers; Dogen calls them flowers.

Gurdjieff changed the language of yoga to divest it from associations. He replaced the names of the centers with numbers, so that we would cease to seek them with preconceived ideas, but rather experience them, so to speak, "unadulterated." In the case of the Buddhists, they referred to the centers as flowers because of the infinite bliss that arises within the opening of every flower on every level.

As I mentioned in a post last week, the entire universe is suffused with this bliss. Even Mr. Gurdjieff, whose work nowadays is surprisingly devoid of such references, referred more than once to the bliss that is supposed to be available to every being as they breathe the air.

This is a birth right, dear readers, of our very own which we do not know much about. It should be available in every breath for us, but it isn't. Man dwells within a sea of blissful opening and receiving of flowers of which he is supremely unaware.

Does anyone understand that we can dwell within this possibility at all times? That the bliss of flowers budding, opening, receiving, reproducing, is eternally present within us?

When Mr. Gurdjieff said that there is a heaven and hell, and that they are right here with us now, he was alluding, among other things, to this.

Heaven is within us. Heaven is outside of us. Heaven is where we are now. It is our individual, and collective, failure to take responsibility for our development that has turned it into hell.

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

Sunday, September 2, 2007


Just a brief post today.

Yesterday while were were driving to Mohonk, my wife asked the question, "What is the work?

It's generally fashionable in the Gurdjieff work to pose such questions as conundrums, that is, unanswerable questions. I'm not very fashionable. I tend to believe there are straightforward answers to some things that do not deserve to be obfuscated.

To work is to take in the experience of our life.

Under "ordinary" conditions, we are asleep, and there is little awareness of the fact that we are within our lives, participating in our lives. The moment any level of consciousness which has a more specific appreciation of this experience appears, we are working--and, what is more, working in life, which is supposed to be the aim of the work.

So it ain't that hard to figure out, what "work" is.

What is difficult is to engage in it.

We need to find ourselves within this life.

Once we are here, we need to accept it, explore it, celebrate it. Breathe it in and out with joy.

And how do we do that?

We work within ourselves to create a unity.
We learn to be unconditional within our conditions.
We learn to offer ourselves wholeheartedly to what arrives.

Budding, opening, receiving. And then, something new is born.

May you find blossoms sweet with the scent of summer.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Hierarchy of Being

Intellect, mind, self.

How might we understand these three separate, yet interrelated, concepts?

The three are nested Russian dolls that often get confused with one another. To make matters worse, all three terms are used rather loosely in different situations; one may almost substitute for another. This is a habit with all of us; we use terms that are different as though they were the same. Our precision in the use of language is lacking. When we read Gurdjieff's lengthy discourses on word meanings, or Dogen's almost obsessive breakdown of terms into reflexive statements, we begin to see that they had an interest in greater precision, in the more concise
definition of terms.

Simply put, I'd formulate it thus: self contains mind, mind contains intellect.

Intellect engages in the absorbing, storage, and arrangement of perceptions. Mind engages in the interpretation of those facts to create a system of understanding. Self seeks to relate, and expand, this understanding to a greater whole.

In the west, we get this entirely backwards. In our data-compulsive, fact-based, intellect-oriented world constructs, intellect gives birth to mind, which composes self.

There is a very real question here of just which hierarchy one wants to subscribe to, isn't there?

In the science-based, reductionist hierarchy of the west, (exemplified, perhaps, by Steven Pinker- who wrote "How the Mind Works"- which should have been more properly titled "How I think the mind works", for the sake of scientific accuracy) it's all bottom-up mechanics. Intellect creates mind, mind creates self, and self becomes nothing more than an illusory construct arising from an accidental arrangement of electrical impulses.

In the hierarchy of the east- we could call it the spiritual hierarchy if we wish for a simple label- it works the other way around. Self is an all-encompassing property--according to Yogis and Zen masters like Dogen, inherent to all matter--, that gives rise to manifestation of being. Self creates mind, and mind creates intellect.

So in a reductionst hierarchy you have matter creating accidental consciousness. In spiritual hierarchy, you have consciousness creating intentional matter.

Is everything arbitrary and accidental? Viewed from the ground up, it has to be. If a man lives down in a valley his whole life, he may intimately know the paths and creeks that populate his world, but he can never know where they come from and where they go to. It's only if he manages to scale the heights that he can begin to see context- to know that there is more to the world than his valley.

Oddly enough, it's the biologists- the ones who ought to immediately see something bigger is going on--who seem to be the blind men. Physicists are far more active in the sciences in pointing out that things in the universe appear to be arranged with far too much precision to have ended up the way they are as a result of sheer accident. One tiny change to even one universal constant, and nothing at all would exist. At least not as we know it. (For an excellent examination of the awkward (from a reductionist point of view) questions raised by modern physics, read "The constants of nature" by John Barrow.) Or, if you want to view it from the perspective of evolution, you could check out "Life's solution" by Simon Conway Morris. These are some very smart guys who are using their minds a good deal more briskly than the famous know-it-alls Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins.

From the point of view of our cells, living organisms with intensely complex lives, it is impossible to conceive of how they fit into the bigger picture of the organism. Our cells will never see the color green. They are unable to extend their awareness to that level. So to a cell, the idea that there is a higher level of consciousness that can conceive of, and see, something called green is not only out of reach, it is irrelevant.

Only when we reach the level of man can we begin to discuss ideas bigger than man. Man is the first level of emergent consciousness able to begin to conceive and perceive from the top down.

The fundamental relationship between intellect, mind, and self changes in man. Real "intelligence" does not emerge at the level of intellect or mind- it only emerges when self appears. The prominent evolutionary theorist Steven Jay Gould remarked more than once that what we call "intelligence" may not actually be adaptive at all from an evolutionary point of view. There is a distinct chance that our intelligence will eventually lead to our extinction. If it does, it won't have been intelligence.

In other words, it may turn out that what we call "intelligence" was, all along, stupidity.

So, what's missing?

In man, self has the potential to develop a capacity for intention, and thus provide a new kind of direction to mind and intellect.

On the other hand, as Gould inadvertently (and perhaps even unknowingly) recognized, intellect cannot direct mind, and mind cannot direct self. Our effort in the west to live from intellect, create mind, and direct self is an upside-down understanding. There is no wisdom whatsoever in it. Hence the aim of the eastern tradition-and, truth be told, in nearly all religions- to first know the self.

If a man knows the self, mind and intellect can serve it. If intellect and mind try to run the show in the absence of self, they run amok. Look around you; the results are everywhere. Men routinely unlock secrets of the physical world using the intellect and then turn them to nefarious purposes; what we end up with is atom bombs. Most "leaders" in science and in politics never stop to question whether we ought to do this, because there is no self- no actual intelligence- running the show. The machine is running the show, and machines are brainless.

Inevitably, we come to the point Gurdjieff made--that is, that man actually has three minds, all of which need to participate in order for true self to be formed in him. This concept bears an esoteric relationship to the discussion in yesterday's post about flowers budding, opening, and receiving, in order to reproduce.

The self is not a default condition in man. Self needs to be worked for, earned. It has a larger viewpoint than the intelligence and emotional reactions that dominate our ordinary life. It is unfamiliar to us in our ordinary state. Chogyam Trungpa had some valuable things to say about this in his classic "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" (see pages 48-49, at the end of the chapter "The Guru.")

However, for as long as man takes his "self" for granted, he won't do any work to earn this birthright.

And only when we attain the experience of Self can we discover Being.

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

Friday, August 31, 2007

Flowers in Space

Chapter 43 of the Shobogenzo is entitled, "Kuge," or, "Flowers in Space." I happened to be reading this chapter this morning as a natural consequence of my progression through the Shobogenzo.

As so often seems to be the case these days, the synchronicity was stunning. Flowers, after all, are the reproductive organs of plants -- that is to say, they are sex organs. (I like to tease my wife, who is a landscape designer by profession, by telling her that her gardening catalogs are all plant porn.) All this on the heels of yesterday's post. Cool, isn't it?

This beautiful chapter by Dogen deserves a read by everyone. Go buy the book!

Here are a few quotes. All of them are taken from the third volume of the Nishijima and Cross translation, published by Dogen Sangha Press.

"... blue lotus flowers inevitably open and spread inside fire. If we want to know the inside of fire, it is the place where blue lotus flowers open and spread."

"Not only in spring and in autumn do flowers and fruit exist; existence-time always has flowers and fruit. Every flower and fruit has maintained and relied upon a moment of time, and every moment of time has maintained and relied upon flowers and fruit... Flowers are present in human trees, flowers are present in human flowers, and flowers are present in withered trees. In such circumstances there are the flowers in space of which the world honored one speaks. Yet people of small knowledge and small experience do not know of the colors, brightness, petals, and flowers of flowers in space, and they can scarcely even hear the words "flowers in space."

He goes on; the man was a genius. Yes, the language is poetic, perhaps even obscure for our day and age, but Dogen points at a magnificent understanding.

Everything is flowers.

All of existence is eternally budding, eternally opening, eternally receiving. Every single object, event, and circumstance we see around us is born of these eternal flowers, which are infinite in number. The flowers have no dimension, they have no limit, and they belong to no time. The heart of flowers cannot be touched, but only sensed within our breath itself: and within every single one of them is contained the entire ecstasy of the universe, in its only and single act of creation.

Of course, flowers beget flowers. Every larger flower is composed of smaller flowers. And those are composed of smaller flowers still. Just as we, inhabiting these bodies, must find ourselves within flowers in order to discover flowers, so every flower can know itself, know the flowers of which it is composed, and know that it belongs to the blossoming of an ever-larger magnificence.

So we need to think and experience in these ways:

eternally budding,
eternally opening,
eternally receiving.

In the midst of these three actions, we may discover ourselves, and everything around us, eternally reproducing. When we combine the three ways of budding, opening, and receiving, we discover the fourth way of reproducing, of giving birth to the new.

To try to know flowers with the mind is like picking flowers. They become separated from the life that produces them. Of course we can admire them, study them, even arrange them perfectly under such circumstances, but we have deprived them of the natural conditions in which they arise. It is best, then, to come to know them through the inner landscape of the body; to discover them in the hills, the valleys, the swamps and ponds, and even the mountains which they naturally inhabit, and to observe them there, secure in the knowledge that they make up our world and stand prepared to receive the pollinators that visit them.

In seeking the flowers within us, we use sensation to seek the roots within us; then the stems, leaves, and branches. Eventually, we may catch the perfumed scent of the utterly glorious nature of reality, which truly is an endless series of flowers in space.

May your buds yield blossoms, and your flowers yield fruit.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


A good friend of mine who is, so to speak, "deep in the work," raised some fascinating questions about the nature of our work over the last few days. She ended up touching on a subject that is not discussed that often in the Gurdjieff work, that is, sex.

It's of note to me that in my extensive reading of Dogen, which now encompasses more than 1500 pages of text, I have yet to come across any discussions of sexuality. If Dogen's Buddhism has any weaknesses--and to me it appears there are few--one of them lies in its failure to mention, let alone come to grips with, this essential question in its theoretical structure. Christianity and Islam haven't done much better.

Why do we avoid the question? Eros is the biological expression of reproduction through union. For this level, it's entirely lawful, appropriate, and to be celebrated.

Man, however, was created to serve as a bridge to establish union between levels. So his reproductive potential extends all the way from the roots of the material world (atoms, molecules, minerals, proteins, cells) to the heavens (electromagnetic Being of a planetary or even solar nature). That is to say, the biological potential we express through sexuality is a mere fraction of what is actually possible for us.

If we come to it, we will understand our experience of the expression of that union as compassion-which has a distinctly vibratory nature, a resonance within the organism. Unfortunately this is quite difficult, because sex as it is, biological sex, misleads everyone.

Don't get me wrong; I like sex as much as the next person, and I think that sex is a good thing and a necessary thing. However, again and again we see that sex leads us into very difficult situations. Senator Larry Craig, who just got himself into terrible trouble over sex, is a good example of this. It seems evident he has deep-seated biological impulses that contradict his intellectual understandings. In the end, his impulses won out over a lifetime of investment in politics. Sex got the better of him, and it looks like it is going to cost him his career. If not more.

In order to understand this better, we need to see that under ordinary circumstances, the sex center routinely produces the highest energy available in the body (Gurdjieff called it Si 12). That means that sex center can do pretty much anything it wants, if it puts its mind to it. Larry Craig is just one sad example; few human beings get through a lifetime without abruptly discovering that sex has gotten them into trouble of one kind or another. In worst-case scenarios, such as AIDS, it kills them.

Mr. Gurdjieff's famous "struggle of five against one" can only be construed as masturbation in the crudest of interpretations. In refinement, we see it is ABOUT refinement, that is, the effort to prevent the other centers from being either parasitized or, conversely, flooded and overwhelmed, by sex center. Instead, the other five centers need to raise their own inner levels of vibration to the point where biological sex (si 12) does not dominate the organism, but assumes a more balanced role. And take note- it doesn't go away, which is what a lot of religions and teachings seem to wish it would do- by force, if necessary.

It becomes integrated.

The balancing of the centers and the consequent creation of the other two "highest" hydrogens (mi 12 and sol 12) brings with it the possibility of transforming sex energy, with its partner energies, into true compassion. And this was the gist of the conversation I had with my friend.

Real compassion arises from within the organism, not from within the intellect. Not even from within emotion. When I say that, what I mean is that real compassion is three centered, and springs from the union of the three highest hydrogens.

This force is transformational in nature. It is also irrevocable. If and when the body produces enough to promote a moment of true compassion, there is no other alternative. It cannot go in any other direction.

As we exchanged about this, my friend and I agreed that the most intimate moments of spiritual experience are not just intimate, they are sexual. They are, however, as she put it "trans-genital." The energy passes over into a realm, a rapture, that transcends simple physical experience. Hence the ecstasies of St. Teresa, whose union with God would have been obscene, were it not so pure.

Pretty technical stuff, I suppose, especially for those not versed in the intricacies of Gurdjieff's chemical factory.

All it means is that in the balance, we can rise above biological sex and open to the much greater forces of compassion and love.

At this point the seed of the divine implants itself in the soil of the body, and flowers grow.

Now go have fun!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Organic sensation

Where is the "experience of experience" located?

For all practical purposes, all the experience we have of this thing we call life is mediated through the organism we inhabit. That is to say, we are at this point in time unaware of any experience that is not mediated through the body and its sensory apparatus. We might allow the possible exception of dream states, but we will not be discussing those today.

Therefore, everything that happens is sensed through the equipment of the body. To discuss alternatives is sheer conjecture. I have met people who argued otherwise, but it seems to be outright sophistry to me.

The body's primary mode of acquiring information is organic sensation. That is to say, the multiple organs in the body -- the skin, the nose, eyes, ears, and so on -- take in impressions through nerves. As we all know, the human nervous system works at varying levels of efficiency. People "gifted" with all of the ordinary senses rarely learn the incredible range and depth latent within any single sense. Deaf people learn to sense through the skin, through touch and vibration, in ways that ordinary people do not. Blind people develop an acute sense of hearing unavailable to the visually oriented man. So when it comes to absorbing impressions, a lot more is possible than what we usually take in. This is dependent on our degree of receptivity; the body has a wide variety of states available to it.

It never ceases to amaze me how deep and how broad the range of physical sensation alone is, and how profoundly the availability of sensation affects the experience of the ordinary day. Depending on what is at work in the body, the sensation of gravity may be different. The sensation of the circulation, or the cells, or the bones may be different. The sensation of the breathing may be different. Each state is worthy of study, because each one begins to give us some insight to the nature of the potential connections between body and mind.

Looking back at yesterday's post, how we could ever begin to understand this without a theoretical approach?

If all we do is sense, without any effort whatsoever at interpretation, we lack discrimination. Our sensation, and our interest in it, must become much more specific during the course of the average day. Just what is going on inside this organism?

The organism contains three minds. As we study the three principle organic minds (once again, I refer here to the passage in Gurdjieff's "Beelezebub," final chapter) and their interaction, we might be engaged in the Buddhist discipline Dogen refers to as "swallowing three or four."
When we attain more unity, and offer something back to the forces which create us, perhaps we are engaging in the activity he refers to as "vomiting seven or eight." Interested parties can refer to the third volume, first chapter, of Nishijima and Cross's translation of the Shobogenzo for more background on this. (Those interested in Gurdjieff's enneagram might profit from pondering the potential relationships between this Buddhist description and Gurdjieff's laws of three and seven.)

In a nutshell, if we study the body, we see that in all of its aspects, it includes both ingestion and elimination. That is to say, all three of the being foods engage in this process. So we eat solid food and then eliminate the waste; we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

It is perhaps an interesting thing to pose ourselves the question of just what the elimination process involved with the third being food, the food of impressions, consists of. I'm not sure about the rest of you, but this is the first time this particular question has occurred to me, and I think it is worth pondering.

Going one step further into this question, it occurs to me that to invest within the sensation of the organism--which has an objective quality, since the sensation comes before the evaluation and commentary--offers a refuge from the egoistic demands that I paste onto every event in my life.

This morning, as I was walking the famous dog Isabel with my wife Neal, we were engaged in a difficult conversation. As I watched myself discharging negativity from the particular battery that I was connected to, it occurred to me that the only way to get out of this, to pull the wire off the post and stop transmitting the current, was to invest more in sensation. To go back one step and try to find the heart.

It helped a little.

Enough for one day.

May your roots grow deep in rich soil.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dogen and Gurdjieff, on form

Dogen's "Gabyo" (in his Shobogenzo) is understood to be a chapter on the question of the place of theory in Buddhism.

The chapter refers to the story of a picture of rice cakes. In Buddhism, a picture of a rice cake traditionally represents something theoretical, that is, an idea rather than practice, and it is oft asserted that a picture of a rice cake cannot satisfy hunger.

This is roughly the equivalent of asserting that all "real" spiritual work is experiential, and that learning, understanding, and theory are all more or less worthless. It's a common misconception, and especially current among people who are lazy about the use of the mind, or have a weakness there which they don't want to confront.

Let's examine the question from Gurdjieff's perspective. Once again, we'll refer to the passages about the society of Akhldanns found in "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson."

Belcultassi, the founder of this society of wise men, practiced self observation to great effect. Beelzebub reports his ultimate discovery as follows:

"...conscious observations and impartial verifications at last convinced Belcultassi that in his common presence something was proceeding not as it should proceed according to sane being-logic." (p. 271, new edition)

From this passage, we understand that there is something called "sane" being logic, that is, a law-conformable being-logic that makes a normal kind of sense.

In addition, it conforms to logic, that is, one premise of that form of mentation follows from another in an organized and predictable fashion- a system of reasoning.

This means that Gurdjieff thought there was an intelligent, logical, understandable form within which consciousness ought to reside. He never advocated the abandonment of a system of reason, but rather, the implementation of a sane one.

Attempts to interpret the experience of life strictly through experience, abandoning intelligence and form, are attempting the impossible, because there is always a system of reasoning, a form, of some kind within the experience. To divorce any experience from all systems of reasoning is absurd.

Case in point. I went through an experience this summer watching and listening to an individual who aggressively--even rudely--insisted that only their experience counted. That was what it was all about, experience alone.

The person in question, after asserting this, proceeded to justify the position by engaging in an extensive line of reasoning as to just why this was so. They went on at great length, until both feet were firmly inserted in their mouth--although they oddly didn't seem to notice this. In other words, they presented a theory explaining why theory wasn't meaningful in relationship to practice.

We should all be careful of how we think and what we say, lest we find ourselves falling into the same embarrassing contradictions, and unconsciously eating the same rank leather. Theory is necessary. With a possible allowance for outright nihilisim-- and even that is theoretical--, it is inescapable.

And in fact, lo and behold, this is exactly what Dogen argues in Gabyo. Without a form- without a construct- without a cosmology and without words and intelligence, one ends up with precisely nothing, and nothing is not the aim.

Dogen's comment on the rice cake parable? Among others:

"In general, those who understand that an expression like this exists to assert that abstract teaching is utterly useless, are making a great mistake. They have not received the authentic transmission of the ancestral founder's virtuous conduct, and they are blind to the Buddhist patriarch's words." (Nishijima and Cross translation, Book 2, p. 236)

Hence his shobogenzo, a thousand pages or so of "abstract theory" that rivals Beelzebub's tales in its complexity, and in its effort to establish an intellectual foundation from which a real understanding can grow.

And what, in the end, is a theory? According to the American Heritage College Dictionary, it's

"a system of assumptions, principles, and rules of procedures used to analyze, predict, or otherwise explain the nature or behavior of specific phenomena."

So. If something is "theoretical," so what? Is that somehow bad? And if so, my dear friends, why?

The supreme irony is perhaps this: if one uses the word "theoretical" as an epithet to dismiss another person's idea, approach, or practice, one is de facto engaging in the use of theory, since one is engaging in an interpretive act based on a system of assumptions and principles.

Perhaps we begin to see here that nothing is what it appears to be if we really begin to think about it actively. Collectively, we humans sling words around like cudgels without considering their meaning or implications.

It takes a bit more consideration than that if we really want to begin to make any sense. As Socrates (and Gurdjieff, and Dogen) pointed out many times, the minute we begin to carefully examine what we say and how we say it, we find out that a great many things that sound very important indeed are in fact absolute twaddle.

There's nothing wrong with using the intellectual mind in one's efforts. Never forget it!

May your trees bear fruit, your wells yield water, and your thoughts be whole.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Inner disrepair

Last night I had a dream in which I was about to be murdered. The situation was inevitable; there was no way around it. The only choices I had in front of me were whether I would be shot, or sliced to death with swords.

In the middle of the dream, I awoke and vowed that although I knew I had to die, it would not be just now.

There is still work to do.

There is rather a lot of work to do, in fact. The longer I work on my inner state, the more I see that a great deal more work is required. The loom upon which I should be weaving the fabric of my life has been neglected and attacked by vandals. It has wooden clogs stuck it its gears, and swine have been rooting in the yarns.

What to do?

We begin with a presumption that we must "use our attention" for our work on ourselves. That what we are seeking to do is to cultivate a special kind of attention, a new kind of attention. This presumption is shared by just about everyone in spiritual work.

I believe that the presumption itself is true, but the kind of attention that we need is beyond our understanding. If we knew what we needed, we could get it. Perhaps the first problem is that we do not know what we actually need.

Take a look at the loom in the picture. Imagine that it is the state our inner structure is in right now.

We want to start "weaving fabric." "Weaving fabric" is having attention, but the loom is not in a state that can allow anything to be made yet! Parts have to be identified, bolted back together, even replaced. The whole machine needs to be cleaned. New thread needs to be put up. We are not even close to knowing what it is all about to weave a piece of fabric. We just happen to know you need a loom for it. All of us continually expect to somehow weave silk purses from inner equipment that looks like this.

Yesterday a Very Senior Person who I happen to respect a great deal told me a story about someone having an attention while drawing a circle, and that they held their attention while they drew the whole big circle.

"How about that," this Very Senior Person said. "Do you think you could do that -- have an attention while you drew a whole circle?"

"It sounds wonderful," I replied. "But I wasn't there, I don't know ...just what kind of attention are you talking about?"

"Let's just say I'm talking about an attention, a real attention," my co-respondent said. "But the way I told you the story, it was convincing, yes?" replied our companion. "That would be a really big thing, to have a real attention, wouldn't it?"

I refrained from further comment. At that very moment, I had some very durable attention of certain kinds in my body, but it did not seem like it was the appropriate moment to bring this up, and to point out that to have one kind of attention is very different than having another kind of attention.

One cannot slam this word "attention" around so casually.

There are many different kinds of attention in man -- many different levels of consciousness are available. To speak of attention as though there were only one attention--which in our work is done all the time, in my experience-- is quite incorrect. Every center has the capacity for attention within it, and each center's attention is divided into three parts. So there are actually many attentions within the body. The relationship between these various attentions is what creates a greater whole.

Can we really say we know anything about that? We may have a very active attention in one part, and almost no attention whatsoever in another one. Perhaps we don't study this enough, because we all somehow presume that attention is one thing?

If we assume that, then for as long as we assume that, we fall victim to an expectation. And for as long as we have an expectation, we will fail to explore the territory properly.

I have respectable enough kinds of attention in some parts of me. My wife has a very good degree of attention in some parts of her. Nonetheless, it's clear that both of us have deficiencies which are at times quite glaring.

I have noted to her with interest that people always think their own particular "expert area" of attention is quite good and even wonderful, and believe everyone else should have attention as good as theirs in that area. Thus the movements people think that everyone should have attention in movement, the intellectual and ideas people think that everyone should be smart and adept at ideas, and the emotional types feel that everyone should have big hearts that are filled with love.

Everyone in life has a tendency to rely on what they are good at, because it feeds the ego. It is much more difficult to look at what you are not good at and admit that it is an issue. In other words, instead of looking at the parts of the loom that are still intact, and capable of functioning well, we all need to be looking at the parts that don't work well. Most of us don't do that, because it is an extremely uncomfortable occupation. If you want to look at what's not working, I can guarantee you, you are going to get your hands dirty.

When I study the disarray in my own inner life, which consists of many psychological ideas that are objectively foolish, a lot of silly fantasies, some insipid paranoias, and a wide range of fairly powerful compulsions, some of which are biological, I see that there is little intelligent order in the way that things proceed. I keep watching the various discombobulated things that go on (see list above) and noting them down in a little booklet.

There they are.

In the midst of this, one of the best anchors is the attention to sensation. Sensation can have its own attention which is active, perhaps even more active than any other kind of attention that can be--at least initially-- recruited to our effort. It is not sufficient unto itself, but without it, not much is possible, because unlike most of our parts, it has an inherent and organic capacity to become awake.

Hence my constant reference to developing the organic sense of being. This sense serves as the anchor which keeps our ship in the current. We can come back to it and rely on it,

...even, perhaps, when the murderers are pounding at the door, and the only choice left is between the gun and the sword.

May your looms run smoothly, and your yarns be whole.