Saturday, July 7, 2007

Getting there first

In Dogen's "Jinzu", or "Mystical power," he quotes Master Rinzai-Gigen as follows:

"Followers of the way! True Buddha has no set shape and true Dharma has no fixed form. You are only fashioning images and inventing situations on the basis of fantastic transformation. Though you may find what you seek, these things are all the ghosts of wild foxes-never the true state of Buddha, but only the views and opinions of non-Buddhists." (Nishijima and Cross' Shobogenzo, book 2, p. 66.)

This view is reminiscent of yesterday's post about movement, relationship and substance. It is also reminiscent of earlier posts about the way we continually script bogus personal mythologies.
The bulk of this chapter, however, is a discourse on the existence of mystical powers.

Mystical powers are a source of great fascination in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, and feature equally "special" roles in Yoga. What happens when a man develops? He attains exceedingly groovy powers: mind reading, the ability to travel on the astral plane, and other exotic things. In the modern west, we find a burgeoning new age health industry based on the magic of special diets and mythical inner healing powers.

Is there any real difference? Or are all such powers mere efforts to manipulate substance, rather than inhabit movement and relationship?

According to Dogen, such aims miss the mark. His contention is that a man who is truly developed does have mystical powers. But they consist of carrying water and lugging firewood.

The other magical powers-the ones that can be used to manipulate the world of substance- are "small" powers. To pursue this is to mistake a "vain outward chase for the conduct of coming home."

Coming home: Ordinary attention to ordinary life. Here is where the extraordinary dwells. In this kind of situation, a little bit of magic goes a long way.

Just today, a very difficult situation with my teenage daughter resolved itself by the judicious application of a bit of real attention, an honesty, and a flexibility within the moment that brought both of us to a moment of understanding that could not have been realized while in emotional reaction. It took some real effort on my part to get us there: she was angry, terribly upset, and perhaps justly so.

In situations like this, we must attempt to tether the exchange to a firm stump of wood, and not leak the essential water of our being out like a sieve. Today I was fortunate enough to be able to set my inner state apart from the explosive connotations of the situation and find a way to work.

How was that possible?

In order to attain equilibrium, one must begin with equilbrium. The secret lies within the tale of the Karapet of Tiflis in Gurdjieff's Beelzebub:

He got there first.

You have to have a little gold to make gold. If we don't work to reserve something for ourselves in our meditative practice, if we do not work to form what is needed to sustain us in ordinary life, we will always be taken by it. We need to learn how to keep a part of ourselves that is separated from reaction, yet invested in the moment.

And then, if we are not taken- that is a truly magical, truly transformational power, because then, within movement, and within relationship, we can offer ourselves to others in a new way.

May you carry sweet water, and lug dry firewood.


  1. These extraordinary powers which you speak about and which Buddhism and Yoga recognize as signposts of development are not extraordinary at all. They are in fact signs of a Man becoming normal. They are normal powers which we have lost by having developed astigmatism and a lopsided view of reality. This lopsided view of reality is not developed by each person alone but is rather part of the "Net" of erroneous relationships and forlorn identifications. When these are surrendered, a man is given back that which rightfully belongs to him -- among which are the powers. To those who have such powers they seem very small -- certainly not worth running after or even using common in the course of ordinary life. One might save them in case one needs them -- to lift a car in case one's child is pinned under it or to have foreknowledge whereby one is able to warn a friend of some imminent danger. Any other use of such powers causes them to rot or disintegrate -- back in the web of stupidity, a man becomes ordinary again.


  2. Sounds reasonable.

    I think what interested me about Dogen was his seeming categorical dismissal of such powers as definitely insignificant in relationship to the single "big" question...

  3. ...and I would have read it more as: what are seeming powers are part of who we truly are, but as we choose to be part of this illusion, it is in focusing on the details of the creation that we are fully aware and most powerful. Intent and focus, in the moment, w/o past or future.



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