Friday, August 10, 2007

Reflections on Compassion

I spent the early afternoon today shopping for antiques on Shanghai's Fangbangzhong Lu. One has to dig around, but there are still good things to be found here. In particular one stumbles across numerous fine Buddhist artifacts that ought to be rescued from the obscurity thrust upon them by time, disinterest, and communism. At times it looks to me like the whole religion is up for sale here.

On the other hand, a quick perusal of the rafters of ads in Shambala magazine gives much the same impression. I sometimes ask myself, why does every impulse in man ultimately turn up as merchandise?

I got back to the hotel drenched in sweat -- I gave myself the task of lugging heavy stone Buddhas by foot through the streets to get some exercise -- and had a fine sandwich in the lobby. Now I sit on the 39th floor of an ultra modern skyscraper staring across a city that is suddenly drenched in mist and rain, and intermittently thrashed by spectacular bolts of lightning.

Even the most contemporary architecture assumes a primeval aspect when it is surrounded and softened by the medium of water, and then highlighted with intense jolts of natural electricity. I could offer you a picture this very instant of the exact impression before me, but the picture I took yesterday -- reflections of advertising signs in a pond in the Ningbo -- is so appealing abstract and colorful that I prefer it.

Let's move on to the subject of the day.

Those who read my posts regularly are aware that I have been engaged for a number of years now in the study of inner negativity--what it is, why it arises, and how we can become less subject to it.

As I continue, on this trip, to review Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub"--part of an audio project whose results will be completed and released, insh'Allah, in the eventual future--I am still engaged in the final chapter, "from the author." One of the signature features of the lecture presented in this chapter is the discussion of the famous traditional yoga analogy of man's inner organization to a horse, a driver, and a carriage.

Astute readers of this passage may pick up on the fact that in Gurdjieff's eyes, the part of the arrangement that has the most serious problems is the horse -- that is, the emotions. The driver functions at least marginally, and the carriage may be challenged, but it is at least functional. The emotions,on the other hand, have been completely abused and are all but uneducated.

I believe we need to study this question in much more detail. As I have indicated before, the health and well-being of the emotional center depends on the interrelationship between the organs-- the inner flowers--that conduct its vibrations. Without a healthy emotional center, the motive force of our inner work is crippled.

It's clear that this emotional deficit is a universal problem: half the nation is on prescription mood enhancers of one kind or another. When a significant portion of the population needs drugs to feel emotionally whole, it's clear something is going very wrong inside people. What's even more surprising, we don't even question it. In this day and age, it is just about taken for granted that our emotions are going to be broken.

How many of us, however, sit down every morning to conduct, through meditation, a thorough study of our emotional state in order to determine why it's broken?

All the chemicals we are using to boost our morale are chemicals we ought to be producing on our own. One would think we might want to undertake an effort in this regard, rather than swallowing little colored pills. As one of my group members said to me a while back, "the chemicals we make ourselves are better."

I remember that many years ago, when I asked how to approach work on the emotions, my teacher indicated that there was no way to work directly on the emotions, that this would enter my work "on its own" when it was necessary.

I don't like to contradict my own teacher, who I deeply love and respect. I owe her a great deal. Nonetheless, my own investigations over the past five years have led me to believe that her take on this is not correct.

The specific work of receiving and connecting the inner energies is work on the emotions. This work needs to be conducted in strict accordance with the enneagram, a detail that seems lost on many of those who are familiar with the Gurdjieff work.

It's essentially true that just about every major branch of yoga understands work with energy, and in this manner one might say they are all equal, and that the Gurdjieff work is the "same" work. That, however, is a terribly mistaken point of view. It would only be true if there were no enneagram. The enneagram provides the objective organizing principle for inner work with energy that was lost by all the yoga schools.

Does anyone take it seriously? Our attitude is usually "oh, yeah, the enneagram." And we move on to other more important questions. Here I am tempted, like Zen master Dogen, to castigate the "mistaken views of non-Buddhists."

In order to reorganize, to reconnect and, yes, remember the proper work of the emotional center, and to learn how to acquire the food that is needed for it, we must work according to the principles of the enneagram. This should not be so mysterious. The cult of avoidance that seems to have arisen within the formal branches of the Gurdjieff work in regard to this question needs to be overcome. The diagram is perhaps the most important tool the school has, and yet I do not see enough serious work being done on it. In the past 25 years I have consistently discovered that any potentially practical application of this diagram is almost completely ignored.

Amazing, isn't it?

All right. Enough of my incessant preaching about this subject. Let's talk about the nature of emotion and its place in our work.

Based on my own observations and research, right emotional food changes the center of gravity in our lives in a dramatic manner. If and when we acquire it, several emotional features emerge within a man that are completely buried and deeply dysfunctional under ordinary circumstances.

The first feature is gratitude, and the second one is compassion.

Right emotional food will bring a profound and penetrating gratitude for even the most ordinary circumstances of life. This gratitude is organic, that is, it arises within the marrow of the bones, lives within the spine, expands the heart, and comes to dominate the experience of life. It carries within it the seeds of that experience Mr. Gurdjieff called "remorse of conscience." Those seeds, by the way, are also the seeds of Joy.

It is possible to feel gratitude towards a pencil, or a windblown piece of trash. This emotion of gratitude should appear within the landscape of life on a daily basis; it is a fundamental aspect of the Dharma. It is absent simply because the parts that produce it are starved. Let me be clear: we do not need to seek gratitude. If we are working in a right way, gratitude will seek us.

Compassion is a larger question. Compassion arises from the interaction between the emotional center and the added, and blended, experiences of the intellectual and moving center. In a sense, this feature belongs to the fourth personality of man. It should always be present. In fact, as the Buddhists maintained, and as Christ probably would have insisted, it is man's most important calling.

And once again: if we work in a right way, we will not need to try to "practice" compassion. We will be compassionate. Real compassion is effortless; it arises as a natural consequence of right work.

If we refer to the chapter "From the Author," page 1087 in the new edition, we find Mr. Gurdjieff saying: "...the highest aim and sense of human life is the striving for the welfare of one's neighbor," and... this is attainable only through the conscious renunciation of one's own."

If this is not a description of compassion, I will eat my hat. Mr. Gurdjieff was no fringe figure, no mountebank establisher of unique and deviant cults; the central question of his work was the question of compassion--as it must be in every real work.

If a man develops a real "I", compassion will emerge in the same way that the sun rises in the morning. Love is the heart of this work we are in.

Those of you who have taken the time to download my essay on chakras and the enneagram have been introduced to the understanding that the energy we must feed ourselves with is Love. Love is not an abstraction or concept, it is an actual physical food that we are able to receive and ingest.

If you don't already know this personally, my friends, you deserve to. Understanding work in this way will utterly change your life.

Mankind was created for this purpose. It's sad that, taken as a whole, so little of humanity has any experience of this. If there truly is a sorrow at the heart of the universe, it would have to be God's sorrow at seeing what he has made available for his creation-- which we all so cavalierly ignore and throw away. Jesus tried to remind us of this in his sermon on the Mount when he referred to the lilies of the field.

In seeking to heal the emotional center, we seek to find in the food of love, to receive it within this vessel, to bring the vibrations that it carries into right relationship within all of the inner parts, so that at least a trickle of it can enter our daily life.

I remember a moment from years ago: one of our more venerable movement teachers reading to us at the end of a class from a text written by the master of the Mevlevi dervishes.

I'll have to paraphrase.

"People don't understand why we turn," the master said. "We turn in order to bring down the light. There can be no more beautiful work."

Amen to that, brothers and sisters.

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

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting to think that while neighbor love and compassion are perfected out of balanced man... that the Mevlevi
    use moving center as their emphasis in bringing down the light, that a Krishnamurti can find the same through a powerful intellectual center.... Somewhere in the Bhagavad Gita it is said that service (physical), devotion and intellect are equally valid paths to the light... but that intellectual path is the most difficult to walk. It would seem that no matter how balanced we become there is still a primary path of expression we utilize.

    Possibly emotional center seems most difficult to access only because we live in such an intellectually centered society... therefore its use is rife with vulnerability, fear, CF.



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