Sunday, July 1, 2007


In his Shobogenzo, in the chapter "The Dignified Behavior of Acting Buddha," Dogen remarks, "The 'mindfulness' of the common man and the mindfulness of the Buddhas are far apart: never liken them." (from the translation by Nishijima and Cross, Dogen Sangha Press.)

This morning, I remarked to my wife as we were walking along the Hudson on this beautiful July morning that this suggests everything we may think of as practice of mindfulness is not actually such practice. After all, all of our understanding of practice comes from what we are -- common men.

I have spent a lifetime being exposed to various spiritual ideas, practices, and disciplines. Everyone seems to have a different idea of what this might mean. There are dividers, who suggest that their own way and only their own way is correct, and there are uniters, who suggest that every way is correct. But no one actually knows what they are doing. We are all just making up a story that seems to suit the present moment.

Something entirely new needs to happen, doesn't it? This mindfulness, this attentiveness, this discipline and this effort is just preparation. When something truly new happens, it is a revolution.

As Dogen says only a few paragraphs after his comment on mindfulness, "In the heavens above, (the state of acting Buddha) teaches gods; and in the human worlds, it teaches human beings. It has the virtue of flowers opening, and it has the virtue of the occurrence of the world, without any gap between them at all. For this reason, it is far transcendent over self and others and it has independent excellence in going and coming."

If we acquire the virtue of flowers opening, perhaps we can begin to see that every assumption is incorrect. This opening of flowers is the dissolution of the ego into something more refined that is at the same time both more and less specific.

So if the practice that we think is practice is not practice at all, what is it good for? It is good for the effort itself. We could examine this question in the light of the very effort of this blog, which is after all composed of words and ideas.

What good does it do to write words?

What good does it do to read them?

In the formal lineages of the Gurdjieff work I participate in, this is often seen as intellectual work, and in our work the word "intellectual" has acquired a meaning somewhat equivalent to the word "shit." To say that something is "intellectual" is to dismiss it as worthless. In their unparalleled zeal to pursue three centered being, many of my fellow Gurdjieffians seem to feel that the intellect is the very best kind of doormat to wipe the crap off their feet on.

In other words, it turns out they actually believe in two centered being, which is loving and powerful, but-- we must suspect-- willfully stupid.

I say this only because I have repeatedly seen so many avoid the effort of using the thinking part. After all, to truly think requires a lot of work. It is not so easy. Gurdjieff left us many difficult ideas, modern-day koans, which have to be struggled with in order to understand how we don't understand.

Nowadays, many sincere friends of mine in the work approach complex ideas like the Enneagram and the chemical factory by allowing their eyes to glaze over. They proceed to claim no one can understand these things, it's too difficult, not their kind of thing, not their way of working, "too one-centered", etc.

Perhaps the most classic defensive position is to assert that we shouldn't try to understand these ideas because that would be "explaining" (another Gurdjieffian code word for "shit.")

Having successfully ducked the tedious responsibility of thinking, our membership then reinvests themselves in a formatory kind of chit chat consisting of sanctioned words, phrases, and methods of exchange which are eminently safe and reassure everyone that things are taking place in just the right kind of way to encourage a slow, steady march towards consciousness.

It's quite true that it's no better to invest oneself in an overly identified way with the complexity of the intellectual ideas. However, as a very good friend of my and I have discussed recently, the temptation to throw the baby out with the bathwater becomes too great.

Our minds are lazy. They want to believe. We need the effort and stimulation of ideas. We need to work on them every day.

This blog, which is now topping out at probably 100,000 words of commentary, represents a significant amount of work with ideas.

Readers can read these ideas and either accept or reject them at their leisure; it is inevitable that they will do so. Every encounter with this blog, and similar efforts like it, will result in subjective reactions on the part of the one who encounters it. That is lawful and acceptable. I have even had at least one reader cheerfully advise me that all of my material is "new age" and comes from "influences one," which is a Gurdjieffian codeword for "superficial bullshit."

It took me a little while to digest that one.

Let's be honest about it: the whole enterprise is not about whether the words are right or wrong, whether we can grasp anything with the mind, whether we will discover truth or falsehood.

The enterprise is about the effort.

If there is mindfulness, it lies in the effort; if there is action, it lies in the effort; if there is value, meaning, significance, life, it lies in the effort. The effort itself is where we find life.

Let's take an example from one of my favorite sources, biology.

If we truly learn to pay attention to our breathing and form a relationship to it which is more organic, we may begin to see that breathing itself, which we absolutely take for granted, actually represents an enormous effort on the part of the organism, which it undertakes on its own, without regard for whether "we" like it or don't like it.

This body is a factory that is working relentlessly to support the enterprise of our consciousness.

Do we know this? Do we understand it?

Now that's effort.

May your lungs breathe air.

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