Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Roots of Being

There are times when it occurs to me that the analogies we can draw between creatures in the biological world and the nature of the universe at large are extraordinarily strong.

In "Beelzebub's tales to his grandson," Gurdjieff speaks about how every three brained being -- that is, in our own case, man, -- is an exact reflection of the cosmos. I think that this idea extends to other creatures as well.

Plants in particular have several specific features that can help us to understand the nature of existence. Our own existence is built on the existence of plants; that is, without photosynthesis, the majority of large scale biological life on this planet would not be able to exist. (We will except life around sulfur vents, which is a subject all its own.) There could well be life, but it would probably consist largely of microorganisms -- and even those would probably, in some cases, be engaged in photosynthesis.

So this act of transmuting photons into stored energy, which is a kind of extraordinary alchemical magic, lays down the basis we all live off of.

Put in other terms: everything alive on this level feeds on light.

And since all complex matter in general is created by the actions of suns, with many of the heavier elements being created only in supernovas, we can say with some confidence that everything is actually made of light.

There is one lesson we learn from the nature of plants. But it is another feature which I'd like to examine today, and that is the nature of roots.

Plants draw nourishment from roots which extend downwards into a substrate below them. This is the flip side of their relationship to light. Without the roots, which hold them in place and collect the minerals and water they need for their work, the ability to come into relationship with this "higher substance"-- or rate of greater vibration-- we call "light" and engage in photosynthesis would not exist. So we see at once that in the universe, higher functions absolutely depend on lower ones. Put another way, in the creation and maintenance of reality, higher orders arise from and depend on lower orders. And all of it depends ultimately on light.

It's the roots that reach down into the lowest level that collect the information and provide the connection that allows the relationships with the higher functions to exist.

OK, you may be saying. Interesting, perhaps, but what does that mean to us in the context of a spiritual work?

In my experience, it is this question of growing roots into our being that is essential to our work. By this I mean physical roots that connect us to our body. I mean this in an absolutely concrete manner; I am not referring to an abstract analogy of some kind. In man, there should literally be roots that connect the consciousness to the body itself. These roots, of a very fine nature, extend throughout the body and enter into the cells. Generally speaking, however, human beings have completely lost the ability to sense them and kind of connection that they form. If a man wants to learn to draw a new and more solid kind of nourishment from his life, he must discover his roots. Not the roots of generations and countries and circumstances, but the biological roots, the subtle channels that connect him to his organic being.

I have pointed out before that the image of the Lotus as a symbol of enlightenment is not about the beautiful flower. It is about what is hidden, what is unseen; and what is unseen is the long stem that reaches down into the mud, and the firm roots that anchor the flower to the bottom of the pond, so that the disturbances of the wind and water do not disrupt the nature of the plant.

When Dogen speaks in "practice period" of reality being "to go into the mud and enter the weeds," he is pointing us in this direction. Reality begins at its roots, and an experience of reality cannot begin with angelic visions. It has to begin at the roots.

Mr. Gurdjieff once said that if consciousness develops it must not only develop in a direction that reaches upward--it must, at the same time and in equal measure, reach downwards, so that there is a wholeness.

So in seeking ourselves, if we seek first the relationship with this physical root of being, this organic sense of ourselves, this vibration and sensation from which consciousness itself actually arises, we acquire a new relationship to gravity. I do not speak of a relationship that lightens us and allows us to float around. I speak of a relationship that helps us become more aware of the fact that we live under these conditions, in this mortal flesh, standing on this planet, and that for us, this is all there is, and it is now.

Time and time again, if we turn to the lessons of biology, we discover that science and spiritual quest are joined at the hip. Even today, I was reading an article about dark matter and dark energy in which prominent physicists admitted that we don't know what these things are. Apparently they are absolutely necessary in order to explain things that we don't understand about the nature of the universe, but the words actually mean nothing. We do not know if there is "dark matter" or "dark energy" at all. The words are conveniences to indicate that there is something out there which we just don't know doodley-squat about.

The Zen of not knowing weds itself to the mysteries of physics. Dark matter? Dark energy? We might as well speak of God. We may even know a little bit more about God than we do about these two subjects.

Every word I write in this blog, no matter what it is, is also, in a certain sense, a convenience to indicate that we just don't know. We make efforts to know, but the nature of the universe itself is so mysterious that we cannot know, no matter how hard we try. We are all on a search to know, and that may be all that we do know.

Some few things I do understand. One of them: just as we have inner flowers, so also these roots dwell in us. I do not know what they are, where they come from, or what would make it easy to find them. All I know is that they are there, and they feed this thing called Being if we find them and come into a deeper relationship with them. The roots feed the flowers.

My wish for all of us is that we can awaken to a greater rootedness of being, based in the organism, that will lead us one step further down the path in the development of compassion both for ourselves and our fellow men.

blessings to all of you today.


  1. Where exactly did Gurdjieff say that if consciousness develops it must not only develop in a direction that reaches upward--it must, at the same time and in equal measure, reach downwards?

    Was daily sitting (meditation) performed in the days of Gurdjieff?

  2. Chapter ten, In Search Of The Miraculous, P 207.

    Below is the passage.

    "“The idea of the possibility of broadening man’s consciousness and increasing his capacities for knowledge stands in direct relation to the teaching on cosmoses. In his ordinary state a man is conscious of himself in one cosmos, and all the other cosmoses he looks at from the point of view of one cosmos. The broadening of his consciousness and the intensifying of his psychic functions lead him into the sphere of activity and life of two other cosmoses simultaneously, the one above and the one below, that is, one larger and one smaller. The broadening of consciousness does not proceed in one direction only, that is, in the direction of the higher cosmoses; in going above, at the same time it goes below.

    “This last idea will, perhaps, explain to you some expressions you may have met with in occult literature; for instance, the saying that ‘the way up is at the same time the way down.’ As a rule this expression is quite wrongly interpreted.

    “In reality this means that if, for instance, a man begins to feel the life of the planets, or if his consciousness passes to the level of the planetary world, he begins at the same time to feel the life of atoms, or his consciousness passes to their level. In this way the broadening of consciousness proceeds simultaneously in two directions, towards the greater and towards the lesser. Both the great and the small require for their cognition a like change in man. "

    As to meditation. There are several references to such in the literature. According to stories, Gurdjieff told his pupils to sit for an hour or more before undertaking any great task, and prepare themselves so that they could focus on their aim very clearly while undertaking it.

    In addition, we could refer to the passage in Beelzebub where he advises Hassein to contact all the individual parts of his body and speak to them each morning. (Actually here he is giving a greatly abbreviated version of an inner exercise that involves the enneagram.)

    However the sitting practice that is currently undertaken in the formal work was introduced by Mme. De Salzmann, probably due to her contact with Zen masters-- introduced to her by William Segal. There is little doubt that De Salzmann and Segal brought a new and line to the work with this practice. I've spoken to people who knew them both well who tend to agree with me on this issue.

    In my own opinion this line is entirely legitimate. There are very important esoteric connections between the Gurdjeiff work and Zen as it was practised by Dogen.

    The people I know who knew Gurdjieff personally did not (the deceased ones) and do not report that sitting of this particular kind took place with him. However many of the exercises he taught have been held close to the vest, so to speak, and it is unclear exactly what Gurdjieff did or did not show students in situations which were never publically discussed or written about. (See Frank Sinclair's book, in which he outs a very few "special" things.)

    Should you wish to discuss this at more length I suggest you e mail me personally at, as we're getting into some territory here that lies outside the proper domain of the blog.

  3. By the way, if you're truly interested in gurdjieff, you might want to visit, or even become a member of

    I am also the administrator of that blog, which has multiple posts by other people from the work. some of the material is quite interesting.


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