I am not generally in the business of conducting this blog as a "forum," although the comments section certainly invites exchange. Nonetheless, one of the readers asked a question that's pretty interesting to me, so I'm going to quote it below and discuss it today.
"I am convinced that Buddhism believes that reality is an illusion. Not the reality as we perceive it, but the actual thing. This does not seem to me to be compatible with Gurdjieff."
After reading what amounts to well over a thousand pages of Dogen's observations about Buddhism, it would be difficult for me to say that I am "convinced" about anything. If there is anything that Dogen seems to insist on, it is the constant act of questioning everything.
This is absolutely consistent with the Gurdjieff work as it is practiced today, at least within the formal confines of the Foundation itself.
I will immediately confess that I speak with forked tongue on this issue. On the one hand, I believe it is an excellent practice to question everything, and anyone who knows me personally will tell you I can be a big pain in the ass this way. In real life, as a consequence of this, I sometimes turn out to be politically incorrect in public and massively unpredictable ways, as my wife--to her great discomfort-- was reminded just this weekend. (I have noticed, by the way, that people hate it when someone actually questions everything. Generally speaking, what everybody -- including myself -- means by "questioning everything" is questioning everything except the things we hold sacred. These, unfortunately, are probably the things that need to be questioned the most, but we all make a religious practice of carefully turning our heads away from them, and finding many other important things to question instead.)
On the other hand, if we conduct this enterprise of constant questioning in a manner that suggests there are no answers, it is nonsense. As I have mentioned before, answers are responses, and everything in the universe is a response to some other thing.
So what is the Buddhist viewpoint on "reality?"
If I had to summarize, I would suggest that Buddhism does point to a "reality." The reality which it points to cannot be verbalized and defies intellectual analysis. From this point of view, everything that we currently experience in our ordinary state is not "real." Instead, it is a fragmentary view that utterly and categorically fails to understand the source from which it arises. I would say that, too, is consistent with Gurdjieff's world view.
This brings us to an interesting question. Is consciousness itself a delusional state, a fantasy that does not actually exist? If there is no "reality," then even our experience in itself is not real, and in the end, there is "nothing." This is not Buddhism; it would probably be called nihilism in the West.
Can there even be "nothing?"
Think that over for a while. What would it take for there to be "nothing?"
I remember a very intelligent, aggressive, and exploratory man-- who is a friend of a friend and has many years of experience in the Gurdjieff work-- who forwarded the premise, during a spirited and good-natured argument, that nothing actually exists. I believe he forwarded the suggestion more as a challenge than as a statement of fact.
My immediate, unhestitating response to him in this exchange was:
"But there is something!"
This stopped him cold, because he knew darned well there is no way around it:
there is something.
Let's face it, "something" is a lousy word. It gets hammered to death in exchanges. Nonetheless, it points us to the fact that there is an experience that we call consciousness. If there is nothing else, there is at least this, at least from our point of view. If it happens to be fragmentary and insufficient, that is only because it is not sufficiently developed within the organism in which it is expressed.
What, indeed, is "the actual thing?" Both Gurdjieff and Dogen (who we will use as our reference point for "Buddhism") point us to one fundamental cause of arising of which everything else -- everything we perceive-- is a fraction.
I would suggest, based on my own experience, that "the actual thing"-- reality itself, in so far as we are able to grasp it -- consists of an inversion of consciousness. In our ordinary state, that is, as we are now and as we usually are, our consciousness is directed outward. We start from this "point" which we call "I," and direct our attention outwards to everything else, which is "it," or, "all that stuff out there which is happening to me."
So, in this state, as my good friend Kathy loves to quip, it is "all about me."
True consciousness, which would consist of and result in an actual experience of a reality as it is, is inverted.
That is to say, everything starts from "out there" and comes in here to this point. So it is not "it" that belongs to "I," instead "I" belongs to "it." That is to say, this point here which is called Lee is an inseparable singularity of being belonging to all of everything. The entire universe and everything that exists is, in this sense, contained within every point of consciousness that arises in it.
The two signature realizations that have come to me over the last six years both point to this question in a rather direct manner. It is peculiar that this question about reality came up today, because I was just musing over these two essential understandings, which form the foundation of my work today.
The first realization is "We are vessels into which the world flows."
This viewpoint inverts and subverts the conventional understanding of reality: it's not about our mind grasping the world. It's about totality creating consciousness.
The second realization, which forms the lead commentary for this blog, is
"There is no "I". There is only Truth. The way to the truth is through the heart."
Our ordinary perception of "I" as we experience it now is fundamentally partial. For as long as we perceive reality through this partial perception, we do not perceive reality, and there is no "reality. " In this sense, I suppose we could argue that the reader who commented on Buddhism had it right. Reality as this mind, as this experience of "I" understands it, doesn't exist at all.
However, there is a reality--one single Truth-- that does exist. As I have said many times in the past, it is not anything we can think of, and it is not what we expect it to be.
Christ said in the Gospel of Thomas--I am paraphrasing here, so please forgive me if I don't get it exactly right --
"He who seeks will find. He who finds will be troubled. He who is troubled will be astonished."
If we can discover the Way, and begin to invert what we are and how we experience that,
...we truly will be astonished.
May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.