Wednesday, December 27, 2006

celebrity death match: Buddha vs. the dog


What is our relationship to our lower, animal nature?

The famous Isabel- immersed in her essential dog nature, and loving it- doesn't worry about such things. But those of us with three brains tend to ponder. Most human beings need more than a plain old stick to keep them amused.

There are a number of different ways to understand our two natures relative to the idea of centers, or chakras. All of them have their points. Maybe rlnyc, who occasionally offers comments on this blog, will give us a few of his many insights on this matter. In any event I'm going to sketch out a few of my own ideas about this today. As we continue, please excuse me for embarking on what will be a more theoretical discussion than my ordinary posts on this blog.

We are composed of two stories which reflect our higher and lower natures. The three centers in the lower story are the root center, the sex center, and the solar plexus. Together they form a trinity. In a theoretical sense some esoteric schools associate this lower story with our lower nature.

The upper story also has three centers. Now, a few years ago I would have given you one take on what those centers are and how they are in relationship, but my understanding of it these days is different. Rather than turn back the clock or examine a dozen different systems (there may be more than a dozen) I'm going to offer my latest up-to-the minute understanding of this. Which will probably change.

There are three key centers in the upper story. Two of them represent organs for receiving and containing the energy of what Gurdjieff called the "higher" centers. In his system they are higher intellectual and higher emotional center. I don't think we need to elaborate this idea in further detail. For our current purposes, the names are not so important.

One of the three centers in the upper story is located at the throat, which is actually the back of the neck, more or less the area of the medulla oblongata. This complex includes an area at the top of the brain stem, or base of the brain. The second center is the third eye. The third is the so-called seventh chakra, which is at the top of the head. In some systems, this "upper triad" supposedly represents man's higher or more spiritual nature.

So we have two triads of centers: an upper-story triad- the Buddha, if you will- and a lower-story triad- the dog. (see my blog on man's two natures for more on the Buddha/dog koan.)

There is an inherent danger in the above interpretation. It accidentally presumes that the "higher" nature of man is somehow better than his lower nature. Much tradition draws a picture of man's existence as being a conflict between man's higher and lower natures instead of a confluence. That is, somehow we are supposed to battle and vanquish our lower impulses.

This idea is to me just plain wrong. What man needs to seek instead is unity. In a unified state the higher parts inform the lower parts. They don't control or suppress them, but help them to naturally find their right place in the context of the system.

That brings us to the keystone piece in the "magical maze" of the inner centers.

The last chakra, which I have so far willfully skipped over, is located in the center of the torso. It's the heart chakra, although its physical location is not quite exactly where the heart is.

This is a very vital area. The upper and lower triads are connected by this center, and it is one of the three classic "blockage" points in yoga. (The other two being the top of the head and the base of the spine.) In Kundalini yoga, as I understand (warning: I'm certainly no expert on theory in this area,) the object is to "store" enough energy to allow it to rise from the base of the spine and pierce all three knots.

Man, as the Gurdjieff system teaches, is designed to be a bridge between the two levels. That is, to bring unity to them. So in the life of man both levels are of equal importance and absolutely necessary. Gurdjieff's Enneagram accurately depicts the unity of the whole system and shows us why all the centers, including the lowest ones, are of vital importance in the circulation of man's energy. This diagram conveys many subtle understandings of man's inner work that only years of direct personal study can begin to uncover. Suffice it to say that with work on this we can gradually begin to understand how it is that we must bring the inner centers into relationship.

In man, the chakra or center occupying the "gap" and forming the bridge is the heart. To me the implication is clear: man's rational being may be what separates him from the animals, but it is his emotional being that is meant to do the chief work of forming a bridge between the two levels.

The chief work of religion, in other words, is to open the heart. As Yogananda emphasized, above all we must learn how to do our work through Love. That Love is not the ordinary love proceeding from what we are, as we are, but comes from a higher level that can find its expression through us. Love is what opens the gates separating man from the divine, and that Love is not discriminatory or partial. It flows through the whole system, invests itself in every center, and values all of our inner parts equally.

As Christ said, "Love they neighbor as thyself." Informed, intelligent self-love (which may bear a relationship to what Gurdjieff called "conscious egoism") begins with right valuation of all our parts.

We're blind inside. Our dog can become a seeing eye dog for us-

but not if we beat him.

1 comment:

  1. Since Lee asked me to comment on this post I'm going to do so, albeit quite belatedly. Between his asking me to comment and my ability to do so, the current of live has contained the holidays and some personal illness which kept me from being able to formulate and offer a response.

    What I find interesting is how different my response is going to be today than it would have been earlier, based on the intervening time and my fresh reading of the post.

    In order to speak to this idea of two natures I'm going to submit something very personal, instead of acting as a didactic conduit of esoteric principles. This of course, can be a dangerous approach, because of elements contained in the inner psychological meaning of the phrase "a prophet is not without honor, excepting in his own country".

    I have extraordinarily fresh memories of my infancy. One of the clearest memories is that I could understand what people were saying way before I learned to talk, and I remember thinking to myself all sorts of questions about how this could be so. Was I myself thinking in words? Was I thinking in pictures? If I was talking to myself in words, how did I know what they meant? Of course, I did not understand a percentage of the words that the adults near me were using, but I couldn't figure out how I knew anything at all. Certainly, other human beings spoke directly to me and even taught me, pointing at things and naming them, but there was an essential knowledge aforehand which was broader and more significant than the one word at a time approach that was used to teach me, and my general knowledge of language and clear understanding of most of what people were saying preceded my being able to talk by a considerable length of time.

    But for the purposes of this discussion, the most extraordinary thing was the fact that I could also "see" into people, that is to say, I could directly intuit their intentions, their inner wishes, that is to say, the meaning of their heart. This led to some very strange observations.

    One of the strongest memories pertaining to this faculty which exercised itself in me without any effort regards a conversation that my maternal grandfather was having with another adult, one of my uncles. Like watching some strange intriguing foreign movie where the dialog does not match up with the action (most famously in Kung Fu movies), I could see that the words that the adults were using with each other did not match their inner intentions. In fact, the clearest and easiest way for me to explain it is to say that they were both lying to one another.

    How I developed this or was given this grace or talent or power is completely irrelevant. The fact is that in addition to lying to one another, I could see clearly that they both knew it. There was a kind of shield created by each adult whereby their intimate contact was muted; in fact, prevented. Here were two human beings who had developed some kind of shell whereby they were both quite alone, and they were using language to keep them apart as well as to contract to pretend to touch one another via the words.

    I suppose as an infant, and in my case, a cognizant infant, I simply did not have such a shell, so for me to witness the interactions was to observe a strange kind of double exposure. Men were trapped alone by their language and their underlying contract between each other to permit lying, as an acceptable social grace. It was very disconcerting to see that world of words in which I was trapped and into which I was headed.

    This is clearly an account of two natures, but it doesn't speak to the specific question which was for me to comment on the chakras and the map of the human physiology and psychology that they represent, as against the formulation of G. I. Gurdjieff regarding "centers."

    The word chakra is a Sanskrit word which is easily translated as "wheel", "vortex", or "center". Therefore it might seem easy to correlate the two systems, and many people have tried to do so. One of my tasks in life and one of the aims of my inner work is precisely the collating of the diverse spiritual maps and disciplines which are found in different places in the world. When I was a little boy I wanted to be a religious person, but if you asked me which religion, by the age of eight or nine I would tell you that I was a Gnostic Christian Sufi Taoist Hindu Hermetical Alchemical Yogi.

    Mr. Gurdjieff in a book of some of his early lectures called "Views of the Real World" says in one place that he has studied 200 religions. I am not far behind in this study, although I am very far behind and below in the realm of "Being."

    There is an alchemical axiom which is as follows: "one book opens another." This is similar to the idea that Mr. Gurdjieff expounds most famously in his statement to P. D. Ouspensky that for a man to know everything, he needs to know very little, but in order to know that very little, he needs to know a great deal." This would imply that one can understand a great deal about the different maps or systems if one were to acquire or to own some kind of "skeleton key."

    Most of the ancient spiritual systems have lost their vigor, or have become desiccated, or by the principles of Alchemical hermeticism, whereby things are spoken out in an oblique manner, in what is called "Twilight language", and most of these systems require a new infusion of spiritual currency without which they turn into static deflations which turn around and around upon themselves according to the law of the "exit less magic circle."

    The chakra system has suffered no less than the enneagram has in the outer world. There are hundreds of books purporting to teach people how to use the chakra system as well as perhaps 100 books purporting to use the enneagram to describe static personality types, somewhat like astrological signs. This is under a law which states that the esoteric germ needs to be protected by its Hermetical shell of secrecy and oral transmission without which in oxidizes -- that is to say, it rusts.

    Mr. Gurdjieff has declared that man as he is sees everything upside down. With the chakra system this is also the case. Whereas the five, six or seven chakras that are depicted in the various authentic Yogic texts are mapped out vertically along the axis of the spine from bottom to top, and which seem to indicate a hierarchy whereupon the higher is better than the lower, in fact the map is simply that -- a map. Perhaps a far better approach would be to lay the map on the table than to put it on the wall, that is to say, look at it horizontally and turn it upside down so that the root chakra or in Sanskrit, Muladhara chakra, faces away from you, and the top chakra or Sahasrara (thousand petaled)chakra faces you.

    Now the Muladhara or root chakra stands for the outer world, where God does not seem to be present, and over which is given to the authority of the Devil (this is a technical term -- please do not allow your associations to demonize the world itself, that is the creation, but understand that the outer world is run as a negativity factory, and humanity are like olives which are placed in olive presses in order to extract various grades of negativity and suffering, for cosmic purposes which cannot be explained here).

    Now, with the map in front of us, the next chakra is the sexual or desire chakra which has the strange name of Svanisthana, which literally means "the place of the self." This sexual chakra moves us outwardly into the world, represented in the complex archeology of the chakra system as a large elephant, inmovable -- the Earth.

    This second chakra pushes us towards the world, ostensibly so that our germ or seed (semen) can propagate in the fecundity of the earth, represented by woman. The chakra itself is guarded by what looks like a large crocodile or alligator in a crescent moon. The crocodile or "Makara" has two ends -- the teeth and the tail. This indicates the two approaches available to the seeker who turns around from the world and attempts to undertake the arduous task back into himself. These are called the right and left-handed approaches. The right approach is to go around the tail, but the tail being exceedingly powerful, can simply throw one back into the world, damaged. The other approach is considered more dangerous as the route takes us past the teeth, which represents the sexual desire itself. In simplistic terms, the right-handed approaches the one taken by priests and monks practicing celibacy, whereas the left-hand path represents the tantra or antinomian (against the law) path of "crazy wisdom" teachers.

    The second chakra also represents the unconscious, so that psychoanalysis and psychotherapy or other paths which lead downward into one's self, can be said to also be approaches to the Makara, or guardian of the chakra. This correlates exactly with the dragon of the western myth tradition.

    The third chakra would be physiologically placed in the solar plexus and the region of the digestive systems, which take in food, and turn it into power, which is translated into behavior, movement outwards. This solar plexus is not misnamed, as the sun itself performs a similar act of digesting matter and turning it into energy which radiates outwards. In the chakra tradition this chakra is called "the city of the shining jewels", or Manipura. It is represented by the element fire and the elemental will. I say elemental will as opposed to a man having his own real Will, which is said to be absent until after the "Great Work."

    From the above account, one can see that the chakra maps are the clear indication and helpmates on the mythological journey which is represented in all the great traditions even unto the fairy tales. I am going to leave off talking about the chakras now, but it can be seen that it looked at in the right way, what seem like arbitrary symbolisms and complex architectures, are instead lucid and wholeheartedly beneficial indications towards a correctly ordered work on one's self.

    The way up is the way in.

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