Wednesday, July 18, 2007

senses and consciousness

In "Butsu Kojo No Ji" - the "Matter of the Ascendant State of Buddha"--Dogen comments, among other things, about the existence and utility of the "six senses" and the "seven consciousnesses."

Of course Buddhist philosophy has technically straightforward explanations of what these terms mean. It's tempting to view this with amusement, since most of what Dogen says about Buddhism consists of statements about how we don't actually know what anything means.

And of course he's right about that. We all make up stories. They sound good, but every time they slap up against reality, there is a large crashing sound and Humpty Dumpty falls to the ground.

I now proceed, with an appropriately joyful amusement, to make up yet another story.

In this particular story, the "six senses" does not just refer to the standard taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. In fact the translators/authors (formidable scholars, to be sure!) who were interpreting the six senses as ordinary senses had to cheat and add one -- I forget now just which one, and the book is at home, not in front of me here at work --in order to make the numbers come out right.

...It may have been money, since that seems to be the "sensory tool" human beings most often use to measure things.

Anyway, the reason that the numbers were not coming out right is because the six senses are not, in any sense, the ordinary senses. In their esoteric meaning, these senses relate to the six centers belonging to the realm of man's work, that is, the iterations of 142857. AKA the six inner flowers, or chakras.

Each one of these inner organs is in fact a sensory tool, a part used to perceive. We learned of this idea yesterday when we reviewed Gurdjieff's allegory of the Society of Akhldanns. Each inner flower represents an entity which has the specific task of feeding itself with understandings based on study of the inner condition. So there are your six senses for you.

All of these sensory organs need to work together for the whole picture to be seen.
Hence the needful "divisions" of the Society of Akhldanns, and the completed Octave in the form of the enneagram.

Dogen's mention of the seven states of consciousness brings us to another question. The six inner flowers each have a consciousness of their own. That is to say, each center is an entity unto itself, or, as Mr. Gurdjieff would explain it, a "mind."

In fact, a man has six separated minds that join together in a single system within his body.

The seventh "mind," which man comes into contact with at the top of his head, or seventh chakra, is the entry point of a higher mind. That seventh, "final" consciousness feeds the material in to this level which is necessary for the conscious shocks that allow the complete functioning of the octave.

Viewing this from within the context of Gurdjieff's system, man numbers one through six relate to degrees or types of work with the six inner flowers that are available to man within the confines of his own being on this level.

Man number seven, who is the "pinnacle" of Mr. Gurdjieff's system, stands apart from men numbers one through six, because he has opened the gate to something much larger than anything Man number one through six can imagine. He is able to acquire all the material he needs to ensure the complete functioning of his Being.

All of this information is, I am sure, annoyingly theoretical to many people. What good does it do us? Spiritual seekers all pretend to agree that we should not work for results, but let's admit it -- everyone wants results. The only people who stop working for results are the ones that have them.

To those naysayers who eschew work on theory, I submit as follows.

Schools would not study theory if it was a waste of time. Mr. Gurdjieff, as it happens, mentioned that the way of the Yogi -- also known as Dhjana Yoga, or intellectual yoga -- was the most powerful of the three traditional ways, because a man who mastered that yoga would know everything he had to do to correct his deficiencies in the other two ways. (Dhjana yoga, when it crossed the Himalayas to China, became "Ch'an" Buddhism, and in the name morphed into "Zen" when it reached Japan.)

So using the mind to attempt to understand is not an idle or aimless task... as Mr. Gurdjieff pointed out, The Society of Akhldanns understood that man must "meditate unceasingly on questions not concerned with the manifestations required for ordinary being-existence." (Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson," P. 284, Arkana edition)

Where does the practical meet the theoretical?

We have to look inside ourselves carefully and try to discover what inner sensory tools we have. This is what sitting Zazen is all about- a detailed study of the inner organism, how it senses, the way in which it is connected.

Those who embark on this journey will discover that that investigation cannot be conducted with the mind alone. It leads us down pathways we did not know exist, to continents so deeply submerged that we did not suspect their presence. One hardly needs to refer the reader back to Mr. Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub" for more on that particular metaphor.

What are the six senses? What are the seven consciousnesses? Does life give birth to them, or do they give birth to life?

In the darkness --

in the early hours of the morning, when time is measured only by the haunting song of the woodland thrush--

I ponder these questions.

Since, like everyone else, I have to make up a story, it might as well be this one.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

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