Sunday, September 30, 2007

sincerity and intensity

I'm keeping it brief today.

We often mistake intensity for sincerity. There is a general impression that if something is intense, it is somehow more intentional. And also that it will be more real, and lead us somewhere meaningful.

Hitler was intense. There's one example of the results one gets working with intensity. As Jeanne DeSalzmann warned J.G. Bennett more than once-- bad results.

Intensity does not beget sincerity. Not only that, if you want to look at the meaning of the word intense, intensity is actually the last thing we need.

To be intense means to be extreme. And extreme is what we usually are in our ordinary state: too invested in one part or another. Not balanced.

To be sincere, as my old group leader Henry Brown used to say, means to be whole. He often passed on the (apparently dubious) etymology of the word as meaning "without wax" (latin sin ceres.) This is a reference to the fact that in Roman times, marble busts that had cracks in them, i.e., not whole, were repaired using wax.

Etymologies aside, in our work, to be sincere is to be more whole.

We return once again to this concept of inner unity--which is created by a connection with a finer energy that can be discovered within the organism. It needs to be sought, located, contacted, cultivated.

We must not use intensity in this enterprise. It's like using a hammer to try and fix a watch. There is a gentleness and a more deliberate inner intimacy to the manner in which we need to attend to ourselves within life, if we want to be here, within our life, within the organic state of being.

When we learn to listen not with the ears, but the eyes, we gradually learn what it means to attend in an inner sense.

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

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Back to Dogen

After a week or more of immersing myself in Trungpa--I'm almost done with Cutting Through Spiritual materialism- I got back to Dogen again this morning, and was once again struck by the extraordinary beauty with which he expounds the Dharma.

A week ago I had occasion to speak with a well-respected and incredibly intelligent man, who happens to be one of the Trustees of the Gurdjieff Foundation, about Dogen. This guy is really smart. He's with it, deeply, immersed in the work, and an extraordinarily incisive thinker.

Even he admits--insists, almost-- that Dogen is maddeningly difficult.

That shouldn't daunt us. The miracle of Dogen is that between the impossible passages, the onion-layers of seemingly impenetrable Buddhist dialectic, utterly magnificent gems are revealed. Gems that combine the sensibility of a poet's breath with an artist's eye; the irreverent wit of a wag with the incisive insights of a sage.

The chapter "Bukkyo"- "The Buddhist Sutras"--takes on a subject oft misunderstood and even dismissed among practitioners: the value of the sutras, the written word, the teachings.

Dogen doesn't bathe the stinking skin bag and then toss the philosophy out with the Buddhist bathwater. In his eyes, the study of the ideas--philosophy--is just as important as any other part of practice. The chapter is well worth reading for anyone who wants to encounter a cogent and passionate argument for the right place of intellectual teachings in the life of the spiritual adept.

The whole chapter--which is rather brief--deserves a read in its entirety. Here are two excerpts (as usual taken from Nishijima and Cross's Translation of the Shobogenzo, Dogen Sangha Press):

"Therefore the long, the short, the square, the round, the blue, the yellow, the red, and the white, which are arranged in dense profusion throughout the universe in ten directions, are all the characters of the sutras, and they are the concrete surface of the sutras. We see them as the tools of the great truth, as the Buddhist sutras. This sutra is able to spread out over the whole of Time and to spread through entire nations. It opens the gate of teaching people and does not forsake any human household over the whole earth. It opens the gate of teaching things and saves material beings throughout the earth. In teaching buddhas and teaching bodhisattvas, it becomes the whole earth and the whole universe. It opens the gate of expedient methods, it opens the gate of abiding in place, and, not forsaking one person or a half a person, it reveals true real form." (book 3, page 86)

"Nevertheless, for the last two hundred years or so in the great kingdom of Sung, certain unreliable stinking skin-bags have said, "We must not keep in mind even the sayings of ancestral masters. Still less should we ever read or rely on the teaching of the sutras. We should only make our bodies and minds like withered trees and dead ash, or like broken wooden dippers and bottomless tubs." People like this have vainly become a species of non-Buddhist or celestial demon. They seek to rely on what cannot be relied on, and as a result they have idly turned the Dharma of the Buddhist patriarchs into a mad and perverse teaching. It is pitiful and regrettable." Book 3, page 87.)

The first passage reminds me of Christ's message: the Buddha's teaching saves material beings throughout the earth. For Dogen, the words and phrases of the Buddha are no empty philosophy; they, like the rest of the life that flows into us, are a living force that offers the possibility of transformation and liberation.

My wife asked me the other night what words are good for in the practice of work. ...Nothing, perhaps; but without the words, what would we have? Let us respect the words we encounter; they, too, are part of Truth, and not to be lightly dismissed by beating the drum of silent practice. Within practice, as the words come and go, they, too, can be accepted.

The second passage, highlighted by Dogen's snottily delightful irreverence, serves to remind us that thinking has a place. It may not be the kind of thinking we usually do, but we should not discount it. It's necessary.

Let's leave it at that for today.

May your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water.

Friday, September 28, 2007

To Openly Inhabit Life

In our line of inner work, people often speak of openness. They speak of liberation.

What does liberation mean? Let's ask some serious questions.

Look around you. Is liberation contained within the guardedness of form?

Is it contained within a structure where other people inform you as to whether or not your efforts are ”good” enough?

Is it liberation to live under the guidance of someone else’s right action and authority, or within the right action of your own authority?

Isn't liberation, isn't opening, to come to a point where we own our own life?

To become open, to me, means one thing in an inner sense. This is the effort to reunite the inner centers and allow each flower within us to open and receive the blessings it was designed to mediate.

In an outer sense, to be open is to inhabit life openly. This means, coming as much as possible from within the organic sense of being that arises through inner opening, to immediately meet life in whatever guise it arrives in, with as few preconceptions as possible. To meet it openly: to be willing to engage with it, to accept what it is, to accept the events and the people and live within them fully, unhesitatingly, as honestly as possible. To dwell as much as possible within truth as it presents itself.

The Christians have a word for this: Agape. Openhearted, unreserved love and warmth. Spontaneity of Being. Birth of the moment, from the moment, within the moment.

Too often, I see that we live behind grim fortress walls gaily painted with idealistic slogans. We need to kick those walls down and contact each other in a much more real way.

Too often, I see that people who claim to not judge are always judging, especially in spiritual matters. The whole enterprise is run on fear: fear of ourselves, fear of authority, fear of others being better, deeper, more meaningful than us. We have to throw this whole slop bucket out if we want to get anywhere at all.

I am no different than anyone else in these matters. We are all slaves who wear the same chains and seek to distinguish ourselves from one another by jingling them differently.

You will notice, at the upper right-hand corner of this blog, the statement that was sent to me and has guided my work for a number of years now:

"There is no "I", there is only Truth. The way to the Truth is through the heart."

As some of you know, this statement was sent to me as a result of my initiation by Mary. Little did I know that I would discover, these many years later, that this understanding comes directly from the Tibetan version of the Buddhist heart Sutra.

As related in Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism:

"The Heart Sutra ends with the "great spell" or mantra. It says in the Tibetan version: "therefore the mantra of transcendent knowledge, the mantra of deep insight, the unsurpassed mantra, the unequaled mantra, the mantra which calms all suffering, should be known as truth, for there is no deception...

...When the basic, absolute, ultimate hypocrisy has been unmasked, then one really begins to see the jewel shining in its brightness: the energetic, living quality of openness, the living quality of surrender, the living quality of renunciation. Renunciation in this instance is not just throwing away but, having thrown everything away, we begin to feel the living quality of peace. And this particular peace is not feeble peace, feeble openness, but it has a strong character, and invincible quality, and unshakable quality, because it admits no gaps of hypocrisy. It is complete peace in all directions, so that not even a speck of a dark corner exists for doubt and hypocrisy. Complete openness is complete victory because we do not fear, we do not try to defend ourselves at all. Therefore this is a great mantra." (page 199.)

Take note of his contention that this quality of openness is robust-! I have said it before: there is nothing weak in awakened Being. If what you experience is delicate and easily lost, don't try to hang your hat on it. It's not a peg.

Apparently Mary had a little more than my Christian roots in mind when she touched me. It may seem peculiar that what began as such an intensely and irrevocably Christian experience quickly morphed into a practice which finds firm roots in Tibetan Buddhism. One friend with a particular depth of yogic knowledge has pointed that out to me more than once. I don't think there are any contradictions here, however.

The teaching of Christ is the teaching of coming from the heart to discover the truth,

The teaching of the Buddha is to come from the heart and discover the truth,

The teaching of the Sufis is to come from the heart and discover the truth,

The teaching of our life is to come from the heart to discover the truth.

If we want to do this, we must learn to inhabit our lives, to openly inhabit our lives, to inhabit our lives as unconditionally as possible, without judgment, without fear. This is because our life itself is what will bring us Truth, filling our heart through our heart. It can't do this for as long as we continue to use our rejecting part to manhandle and abuse it.

Of course surrendering our negativity is terribly difficult, even terrifying. We are so filled up with judgments and with fears, if we give them up, we are afraid we will have nothing left. We do not understand that by giving the judgment and the fear up, something so magnificent will become available that it will overwhelm everything we are, and create a new world.

This inner journey that we share together is an effort to seek the heart of Christ within us. It is in there; and not so far away, at that. When He gave us the parable of the Lilies of the field, Jesus was trying to tell us that liberation is a gift God wants to give us as freely and as openly as he wishes for us to inhabit our lives.

I think the problem is that we do not want to accept it.

And so, we ask ourselves, where does Gurdjieff fit into all of this?

The man himself stands alone: his verbal and personal legacy speaks for itself.

But when true leaders die, we are not left with the men, or the women; we are left with organization. And, in an old joke Dr. Welch was fond of telling, organization was the first tool the devil reached for when he saw that Christ was giving the whole game away.

It can sometimes be difficult to see an image of freedom and liberation within the rigidity of form, any form. In form, everyone is very serious, somber: we need to have serious events with serious leaders who tell us serious things to do, and serious rituals to follow. Everyone within a form seems to need to speak the same way, act the same way, nod in approval at the same statements, ...and perhaps even foolishly repeat to each other the essentially nihilistic assessment that "there are no answers."

We are far too careful in our work. If we risk nothing, we will never move very far from where we are.

There is an answer. We can find Truth, if we seek it through the heart.

And that is exactly where we can discover an intense, unending gratitude for this experience called life.

This has been a difficult piece to write. It awakened emotions of real remorse and gratitude. I am not going to try to second-guess it; I will let it stand as it is, because it did come from the heart.

Much love to you all. May your trees bear fruit, may your wells yield water, and may your hearts be open.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Transformation and consistency

Today we are going to revisit yesterday's subject, expanding the allegory, and beginning with a picture of the Shawangunk conglomerate-- seen above in somewhat a larger context, after a few glaciers got through with it. (Transformation never ends.)

Let's look at an abbreviated version of an old Zen saying:

Before enlightenment, mountains are mountains. On the way to enlightenment, mountains are not mountains. After enlightenment, mountains are mountains again.

Our conglomerate went through the same process. It began as a mountain, went through a radical process of transformation that destroyed it, heated it, melted it, and reformed it. It ended up right back where it came from. The physical state, which began one way, deconstructed itself and was reborn in its own image. Like the events in our life, these appear to be a series of separate events: sequential bits and pieces of reality.

In fact, they are one whole and seamless thing. This is perhaps the very reason that Dogen includes all of the state before, during, and after enlightenment as the path. He does not even necessarily formally separate Buddhahood from non-Buddhahood, thereby birthing an inscrutable philosophical complexity. ...Hence his delightful reference to us all as "Buddha ancestors."

Why does he do this? Well, maybe he's not as complex as he seems to us. Perhaps all of the expounding turns around one single grand idea.

The first step on the path is just as much a part of the path as the last step on the past. Without a first step, no last step. Dogen's myriad, challenging excursions into the is-ness and not-ness qualities of all and sundry are all aimed at helping us to dispel within ourselves the impressions of fragmentation and to see that wholeness, fragmentation, and reunification into wholeness again are all part of one single thing.

It is a matter of perception that forms fragments and mountains, and it is here in the nature of the relationship between awareness and discriminating mind that reality goes on the chopping block. Awareness is whole, one seamless experience of Truth; discriminating mind, on the other hand, cuts reality into little bits, in the relatively vain hope of understanding it. This activity is a lot like the biologists who feel that we are going to ultimately understand how cells work by separately analyzing every one of the billions of chemical reactions that govern them.

Those who fear that this type of activity represents a potentially serious pitfall of Gurdjieff's practice of self-observation will not find themselves alone; Trungpa expresses exactly the same reservations in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.

Here's the crux of the matter as I formulated it to Neal this morning, while walking the famous dog Isabel:

We all somehow start out believing that transformation arises from mind and alters our perception of the physical state, and all too often, we get stuck there.

In fact, exactly the opposite is true: transformation only arises from a change in the physical state, which alters the perception of mind.

And we learn this from the pebbles and mountains.

Dogen's difference between forcing a person to enter and leave the gate of liberation, and getting the gate of liberation to enter a person, is the difference between mind transforming physics and physics transforming mind. The origin of everything lies within the physical roots of reality, and not within the forms constructed by the mind that encounters them. So if we wish to seek transformation, transformation begins within the body, within the physical reality.

Backbone comes from backbone.

Remember Gurdjieff's adage that everything is material; and, as one of the readers of this blog reminded me yesterday, everything is alive. Materiality itself is a living thing.

We cannot think our way to God. We can, however, break our mountains down and reconstruct them. There is a big risk here; if we want to do this, the beautiful white cliffs of quartz have to go. Everything has to be smashed down into pebbles.

What a horrifying prospect, eh?

In order to seek transformation, we must seek it within a careful study of the machine -- that is, the organism we live in. Of course, many may object to this contention. There are a lot of psychic or psychological practices that people dearly love to indulge in, such as visualization techniques in meditation. One older person--a close friend and teacher of mine these days-- who knew Jeanne DeSalzmann well and worked with her for many years told me that she used to visualize all the time.

It didn't turn out to be all that productive for her. She talked to Madame DeSalzmann about it, and DeSalzman's comment was, more or less, "It won't do for you. You are too thick."

We have to work with our thickness, that is what we have and where we are. If we were meant to inhabit astral or psychological realms right now, we would not be incarnated in bodies. The whole point of work on this level is that we are in bodies. Trying to get out of the body -- out-of-the-body experiences, visualization, astral travel, and so on -- misses the point of why we are here. In our rush to reach the astral plane, we seem to forget that we have a permanent out-of-the-body experience coming up.

That one they call death.

Until that enforced and inevitable moment arrives, the locus of our work is always within the body. Our opportunities for transformation began within the physical foundation, the root reality of our sensation, the connections between the six inner flowers. Not in the thoughts that arise about them.

Chemistry and physics change mind; mind can't change chemistry and physics.

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


This is a picture of Shawangunk coglomerate: the ore body the Shawangunk Mountains in upstate New York are composed of. The conglomerate is the remains of what was, hundreds of millions of years ago, a huge mountainous region mostly composed of quartz. Blindingly white quartz: a quartz filled with light, a quartz that reminds us, perhaps, of noble qualities, of purity. What a sight that must have been in morning sunlight!

It did not last.

The mountains stood at the edge of a sea, and, as they crumbled, trillions of shattered fragments of quartz were rolled for millenia along the shoreline, until they became soft and rounded. Despite this, the quartz did not lose its character. Even in fragmentation, it remained true to its nature.

Eventually this pebbly mixture was buried again, sank beneath miles of overlying sediment, and was subducted until it reached a depth where temperatures and pressures welded it back into an extremely hard, durable quartz ore body, perhaps even harder and more resilient than the original quartz outcroppings from which it came. In early America, because of its hardness, it became a preferred material for use as millstones.

The conglomerate is composed of many individual parts, but has been welded into a durable whole. In this sense, we are reminded of the possibilities that lie in front of us as we attempt to establish an inner unity that can withstand the pressures of ordinary life. No one of these pebbles alone can serve to grind grain, but welded together, they are up to the job. And together, they are beautiful.

We can't achieve unity without pressure and heat.

...I continue to return again and again to the question of how I meet the current set of conditions, which too often seem like pebbles that are trying their best to grind me down. In my resistance to them, I forget that they, too, are true pebbles. Basically, I choose to dislike these outer conditions-pebbles.

These conditions-pebbles are disordered, unruly, uncontrollable, abrasive and unexpected. They are screwing the whole freaking game up.

It seems to me that no matter what we do, collectively, we continue to find ourselves in a position where we meet conditions coming from a state not of confidence and right self-valuation, but of fear and negativity. We are all fear factories; if we look closely, we see that a great deal of our motivation in response to others comes not from any positive place but from fear. It wears a thousand disguises, but unmasked it is always the same.

Negativity is the most insidious condition we inhabit. It is present almost all the time: our preconceptions cause us to meet each moment of our life with a reflexive act of rejection. Even when we don't think we are rejecting, and we recast the rejection in special terms that put a good-looking spin on it, we are still rejecting. This set of conditions, whenever it is, is never good enough. We are perpetually looking for another set of conditions that will come along later and be better. And, paradoxically, we even reject the fact that we are negative.

Coming to terms with the fact that all conditions are in one sense equal--i.e., no matter what happens, we are always here with those conditions right in front of us--seems nearly impossible. Our personality judges everything almost instantaneously, and finds it wanting. In doing so, it rejects the influx of impressions as they stand, rejects life as it arrives, branding it as insufficient in one way or another.

We do this to people, we do it to things, we do it to events, we do it to circumstances. Many years ago, when I first really saw this part of myself in action, I referred to it as the rejecting part. Our rejecting part is bigger than any other part in us. It is so big that we are no longer able to see it. We see only small parts of it that have taken on clever forms of camouflage, disguising it as a part that accepts. It's a big shock if we ever really see it. Then we see we are not what we think we are.

The net effect of this rejection is the starvation of the essence. Here's why:

Essence feeds itself on the immediate incoming experiences of life.

If essence is free to do this -- if our inner chemistry is arranged properly, if we make an effort to open and feed our inner flowers--then essence finds the most ordinary circumstances satisfying. Everything in life, no matter how mundane, feeds us in a special way that cannot be described outside of metaphor or parable.

Christ called this changing water into wine. Another description of it is the peace of God that passes all understanding. The point is that when essence is fed, the entire experience of life changes. We discover that there is a joyfulness within life that we never knew about before. We do not have to base our lives around the premise of rejection. We may still have our negativities, but they do not act as tyrants. We begin to understand that they are not the continents, but the weather. We stop investing in cement and start investing in water.

The pebbles have possibilities.

One of my best friends, a woman who is not in the formal Gurdjieff work but has a great interest in and understanding of the ideas, has pointed out to me many times that Chief Feature seems to arrange itself around fear. Along with its bosom buddies, negativity and judgment, fear forms a triumvirate that rules us by exploiting the inherent weaknesses within personality: habitualism, literalism, dogmatism. (Remember, the original chief action of the organ kundabuffer was to reinforce man's experience of pleasure through repetition.)

Hence we propose chief feature according, logically enough, to the law of three: it is a stable, self reinforcing paradigm.

It needs, perhaps, to be balanced against a trinity formed of essential qualities: Love, positive attitude, acceptance. These grow not from within the mind, but from within physical connections formed within the body, through attention.

There is a tricky part to this: in understanding the idea that we dwell within two natures, we can eventually strike a balance between the ordinary self, the personality, which finds itself locked within this struggle, and a part--the essence--that is not so engaged by it. For some time, these imbalanced parts (with the weight primarily resident in personality and the effort towards essence) must learn to coexist, to participate side by side.

Gradually, with work on inner relationship, essence can get its feet under it. And essence, though weak, is ultimately as clever as personality: once it gains some strength, it finds ways to ensure it's fed. This may be what Dr. Welch was referring to when he offered us the oft-repeated observation that "the Work works."

Of course, so much of this is a work of the organism. It presents itself as psychology, but it depends on organic chemistry--and a more conscious awareness of organic chemistry, at that.


May our inner pebbles of essence merge and harden, even as we progressively attempt to soften the cement of our personality...!

And may your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


This morning was one of those mornings when events seemed calculated to cause strong reaction in me from the very first moment I walked into the office. One little thing after another of the precise type that sets me off went wrong. Nothing major; let's face it, I, like most people in developed countries without debilitating diseases, money, mental problems, or very annoying relatives, am living a relatively easy, carefree life.

My problems aren't serious. For the most part one might say they are to be expected.

...I don't expect them, however; and of course, as usual, I feel the entire world should arrange itself at all times so as to allow me maximum comfort.

I was forced again and again this morning to confront my own negativity as one little thing after another went wrong. From a certain point of view, it was helpful that this exasperating process began right away. I had to deal with enough irritations to start with that by the time I got to my 10:00 am meeting (on a subject that always raises the local level of micro-managerial nitpicking to new highs) I was almost prepared to be cool, calm and collected.

Well, not quite. One of the consequences of studying ourselves as we are as that we are forced over and over again to see how we are.

And we're pretty irritable, aren't we?

In studying my reactions this morning in the meeting, I found myself firmly in the midst of my perennial urge to make sure that everything that is out of place be put back into place immediately. I somehow invariably want things fixed, and fixed in a hurry. As I grow older I like to believe I am outgrowing this reactive state, but I see the likelihood is I'm not. Not very much, anyway. I seesaw between an inner que sera, sera, and the violent urge to fanatically stamp out inner que sera, sera wherever I find it.

This is one of the great delights of being a Libra.

If we attempt to be more patient, are we surrendering to the evil inner god of self-calming? I don't think so. In the midst of centering the Being between the emotional reaction, sensation, and the rational part of thought--presuming it hasn't tethered itself so firmly to the emotional reaction that it gets dragged off down the inner road to perdition-- I actively see the Holy affirming, Holy denying, and Holy reconciling principles at work. Within them I find a possibility of accepting the conditions, which the denying part of me objectively hates. (My inner commentary during the meeting consisted in part of a heartfelt critique of how utterly, insanely stupid most of what we all do in business is. I think Nicholas Taleb's "Black Swan" brand of cynicism may be infecting me.) By the time the meeting was over, I had managed to extricate myself more or less emotionally intact, that is to say, not seething in a mass of destructive reactions. Even, against all odds, reasonably cheerful.

Time once again to invoke the power of the stupid man's Zen:

"It's not so bad, really."

Love to all of you,

...trees, fruit and so on.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ambition vs. Participation

When we meet our moments in our lives, too often, we meet them with ambition.

We always want every moment to be a certain way, to offer a certain kind of support, to provoke stimulation, in other words, to satisfy. We tend to arrive at every moment of life saturated with the need for things to be the way we want them to.

I was discussing this briefly with my local workplace spiritual genius, Annie, who has a lifetime of practice in grass-roots Christianity. This morning, she put it thus: we do not want the will of the Lord to be done, we want our own will to be done.

This is ambition. We don't participate in life, we demand of it.

When one finds oneself in repose, receiving life as it arrives, one has the opportunity to participate more. This may not be some massive, fabulous altered state of higher consciousness, which is what we too often demand of our spiritual work. It might be quite simple. We might just be living, receiving our lives and accepting them.

We won't be fabulous. We will just be.

Chogyam Trungpa spends a good deal of time explaining that ambition, the desire to get somewhere, to be better, to be "good," is basically a product of ego. When Mr. Gurdjieff advised his followers that man cannot "do," he may have been referring to this we are, everything comes from ego, and ego does not do, it demands.

It wants, it needs, it must have.

As stated in the first two of the four Noble truths of Buddhism, we suffer, and the root of our suffering is desire, or demands. So ambition, the desire to get somewhere -- yes, the desire to get somewhere in our spiritual path -- is actually where our suffering begins. We are all so busy trying to get somewhere, we never see where we really are.

My original group leader, Henry Brown, who is dead these many years, God rest his soul, called our effort in spirituality the effortless effort.

The effortless effort is one of receiving and giving, not demanding and taking. To begin to understand this requires a revolution in which everything is overthrown. It's only when we realize that the whole regime is corrupt that anything new becomes possible.

In "Cutting through Spiritual Materialism," Trungpa says:

"We are too keen to learn something, too busy attending to our ambition to progress on the path rather than letting ourselves be in examining the whole process before we start...

...This was the experience of the Buddha. After he had studied numerous yogic disciplines under many Hindu masters, he realized that he could not achieve a completely awakened state simply by trying to apply these techniques. So he stopped and decided to work on himself as he already was. That is the basic instinct which is pushing its way through. It is very necessary to acknowledge this basic instinct. It tells us that we are not condemned people, that we are not fundamentally bad or lacking." (Pages159-160.)

Yogananda said much the same thing. There's plenty of hope out there.

We don't trust in ourselves. We don't have a right valuation of self. If self is a tiny, needful, grasping thing, then all it can grasp and get to satisfy itself is tiny things. It doesn't know that it would be much happier if it stopped wanting things and just saw what it had.

There needs to be a much more expansive and global acceptance of Being within us. Real Being does not need to take and grasp more and more in order to satisfy its self; it is already satisfied when it gets here.

Here's a revolution: we can give ourselves permission to defy the message the Rolling Stones summed up our society with, and start out satisfied! How 'bout that?

That which is already satisfied has no ambition. It offers itself by default the opportunity to participate in life, to inhabit what is rather than bend it to its own will.

We have such beautiful possibilities in front of us. There is so much good that could grow within us and be offered to others. Do we sense this?

Usually, I think we don't.

I'm tempted to continue here, but this seems to be enough for today.

May your trees bear fruit.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

life is the teacher

Lotus flower, West Lake, Hangzhou

Trungpa, it turns out, spends a good deal of time in his "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" discussing the way we solidify life, and thereby remove the life from it.

How to remain fluid?

In today's Gurdjieff work, we discover the corresponding practice of "being in the moment." Admittedly, this practice is an evolutionary aspect of the Gurdjieff work- you won't find the phrase in any books by Gurdjieff or Ouspensky (at least that I know of.) The roots of this practice, which certainly has more of a Zen flavor about it, may well stem from William Segal's interest in Zen, Madame De Salzmann's corresponding support, and the subsequent influx of Zen practices such as sitting, which is now considered an orthodox part of the work even by people who stubbornly resist the influx of other "new" influences. The irony of which should, perhaps, not be lost on us. Put bluntly, the Gurdjieff work must become an evolving organism, or it will die out. And it already is, since it evolves within the practice of every person who engages in it.

Today I attended one of several celebrations of Peggy Flinsch's 100th birthday. For those of you "outside" the formal work, let me just "fill in the blanks" by mentioning that she is one of the few people still alive who not only knew Gurdjieff personally but worked with him directly. He personally chose her, we're told, to read the English translation of "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" because... well, because.

Anyway, one of Peggy's entourage reminded us this afternoon of her adage that life is the teacher.

To be in the moment is to work in life- to be in life fluidly, dynamically, presently. This effort involves an acceptance of conditions, a willingness to inhabit the situation, a warmth and an openness. This means we make an effort to meet our community--both our inner and our outer community--within the same moment, at the same time, and offer an unstinting unity that devolves and evolves from the moment that exists in front of us.

It implies--and demands--a flexibility and a sense of humor that directly opposes the rigidity and grim determination that many daily enterprises get conducted through and with. Trungpa mentions this too; his point, that laughter can often be the sword that cuts through the cement we have in us, and lets the water flow again.

In order to find this place, and work within it from within a personal center of gravity, we need to drop the baggage, drop our assumptions, drop the cement statues we've been constructing and lining our inner garden with. Yes, it's true- gardens need static elements such as walls, borders, statuary and walkways-- but without plants, without flowers, they're not gardens.

So now, perhaps after many years of rather technical study, self observation, and so on, it's the dynamic element we need to take into account and work with. Meeting each other on our own mutual ground, within our humanity, acknowledging our weaknesses, yet warmly supporting each other in exchanges, we find a place where flowers can grow. A place where practice arises within each moment, within life.

Yes, it's true. When it comes to spirituality, I guess I'm a gardener, not a warrior. And maybe that flies in the face of the heroic idea that we should follow the warrior's path and storm the gates of heaven.

My own take on it is this:

You can feed more people honestly with vegetables than you can with a sword.

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

Friday, September 21, 2007


Another one of those days when energies that cannot be described and do not have names show up in the middle of the day and make decisions that cannot be brokered.

I wanted to write a blog about the subject "never mind anyone else," that is to say, the idea that we should not pay attention to other people and how they are, but pay attention to ourselves and how we are.

How are we for ourselves, to ourselves?

Like many early-morning formulations, it turns out these questions, while good ones, do not relate to the present state. And I think perhaps the whole point of undertaking an enterprise like this one is to at least be honest enough to make sure that the writing corresponds to the present state. If one can.

We do not know what we are, or where we are.

We speak of the self as though we know something about the self, but no one has ever seen the self. It might as well be dark energy, a term physicists use to explain properties of the universe that cannot be explained in any current model without invoking a deus ex machina. ...Dark energy has never been seen, and no one can tell what it is. Nonetheless, scientists speak about it as though its existence were a certainty--in the same way that the religious people they so often disdain invoke God to explain properties of the universe that nothing else seems to come to grips with.

Does science have a poor nose for irony? And are the seekers and searchers of truth any less imbued with hubris, as we banter about the dark matter of the self?

Self observation, self discipline, self control.

What is the self?

The self is not something that can be grasped or held; a trillion words will not describe it; no container can hold it, no mathematical equation can describe its arising, position, direction, or momentum. When one thinks it over a bit, it's quite amazing that we have developed so many words to grapple with the concept of being, which is a quality that can only be inhabited within living consciousness, and dies the instant it is pinned down in the killing jar of analysis.

Yet here we find ourselves inside our own personal killing jar. Everyone has one. Or, drawing on my most current analogy, our own personal cement mixer. Everything comes in, we cast it in cement, end of story. In this way, everything that arises in us becomes a funeral monument.

Great to look at. Useless for practical work of any kind.

In the beginning of one of the Gurdjieff movements movies (not, unfortunately, unavailable to the public, a very nearly criminal oversight on the part of the powers that be in the Gurdjieff Foundation) Jeanne DeSalzmann says to the viewer that everything is always in motion, everything is always going up or down, nothing ever stands still.

If we hear this, of course we nod in sage agreement, as though we knew what she was talking about.

But we don't.

Every single one of us is trapped in cement mixer mode. The flexibility that is needed to treat life in a manner other than as a solid object just isn't in the inner air. When and if new and truly flexible things come along within us, they are bewildering, inexplicable. So of course we try to calm down and tame them, and explain them.

More dust, more water, more cement.

Even more criminal on our own part, perhaps, is our insane belief that everything of value that we might find is incredibly delicate. If spirituality, if a real relationship with whatever "self" may be, is that ephemeral and that weak, let's face it, it doesn't stand a chance in this brutal world.

On Saturday we drove upstate and strolled along a relatively undeveloped stretch of river bank on the Delaware River. I watched a monarch butterfly take off and fly away from the riverbank over the trees.

We look at butterflies and see that they are extraordinarily delicate creatures, you can squish them in hand with little or no effort. They weigh so little that any wind would seem to buffet them off their course; they are just the right size to be a snack for a bird. Beauty, yes. Magnificent, delicate, ephemeral, short-lived beauty.

Of course, our impressions of these butterflies are all completely wrong. This butterfly flew off with a strength, a speed, a determination and an aim that would have put some small aircraft to shame. This creature was strong. Not only that, constantly in motion, it travels thousands of miles to winter over in Mexico, a journey that a human being would find terribly difficult without aircraft or motorized vehicles. Far from being defenseless, it is poisonous; there is nothing nice about eating one of these creatures. So nature has endowed beauty with strength. Amazing, flexible, mobile strength that drinks nectar from flowers.

As we engage in inner work, our essence is a caterpillar munching away on the milkweed leaves of our ego. Eventually, if we are lucky, it will form a chrysalis, and something inside it will begin to change a very great deal. When it emerges, when it bursts through the protective skin under which it has wrought its changes, it will not be a weak, delicate thing. Being is tough, resilient, resolute. These are the qualities that attracted people to Gurdjieff. He was as robust as his teaching.

If there is such a thing as self, self lies beneath and within all the qualities that give birth to everything, from the leaf to the munching caterpillar to the chrysalis to the butterfly. Self needs to be expanded to encompass everything, even the moments before self and the moments after self.

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

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Curling up inside

This blog took a bit to get itself started. Plants do not always grow just because one sets their seeds in the soil, any more than cats curl up and sleep where you expect them to.

This morning I awoke at about 2:30 a.m. and spent time within the darkness actively curling up inside the energies that concentrate themselves in the lower part of the torso.

We have so many energies flowing through us in the course of the average day that we don't notice. It's equally so at night, when the body busies itself manfacturing the substances it will need to sustain the consciousness during the following day. As one gradually becomes more familiar with these inner forces, it's worthwhile to study their presence, their strength, the source of their sustenance--presuming, of course, we can locate that--and their effects.

This kind of activity is perhaps not so unorthodox. Gurdjieff, as it happens, advised Ouspensky to become familiar with what he called the "higher hydrogens" and study their effect so that one knew them individually.

Of course I know few people who profess to undertake such a study in their work. Why, I cannot know. Perhaps there isn't so much interest in the kind of precision that type of study takes. Or perhaps it's too vague or inaccessible. I don't know.

It might, however, be worthwhile to cultivate a more intimate relationship with these inner forces. I believe that in its essential practice, meditation--whether we express it as mindfulness in sitting or mindfulness in life-- is all about initiating and feeding a relationship to the finer substances the body can produce. Dwelling within them, accepting them, without manipulating them or clinging to them.

Just studying them to see what they are.

Where do they come from? Where do they go to? What are they doing? We don't know this. We speak of "different states" but do we invest in such different states? Do we pay for them, or try to take them? If we turn such moments and such states into things we want to have, to hold, to own and to repeat again, "the gate becomes more and more distant." And we've all been there, surely.

This clinging, this wish to curl up comfortably within the familiar--even if it's the unfamiliar which has suddenly become familiar (for the grasping mind creates familiarity within the instant)--is the pouring of cement--always supervised by our inner paving company, whose intention is always good, rather than with aim. In grasping we flatten everything.

Flat is safe.

So there I was at 2:30 a.m, curled up inside not-flat, inside depth, attempting to see inside the inside.

This mechanism we inhabit--it's delicate, precise, unfathomable. Perhaps the very beauty of inner study lies in the fact that the landscape--the fences, walls, tiles and pebbles-- from which we arise so directly is so unknown, and so profoundly filled with an invitation to this subtle intimacy.

Let's all get closer to ourselves together this weekend, shall we?

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The gate of liberation

This is Juliet, who has made a successful lifetime practice of inscrutability.

In Nishijima & Cross's translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo, book 3, page 71, Dogen quotes Zen master Seppo as saying:

"The whole earth is the gate of liberation, but people are not willing to enter even if they are dragged."

And Dogen continues: "So remember, even though the whole earth and the whole world is a gate, it is not left and entered easily, and the individuals who get out of it and get into it are not many. When people are dragged they do not get in and do not get out, and when people are not dragged they do not get in and do not get out. The progressive blunder and the passive falter. Going further, what can we say? If we take hold of the person and force it to leave or enter the gate, the gate becomes more and more distant. If we take hold of the gate and get it to enter the person, there are chances for departure and entry."

The quote goes on in a discussion of expedient methods and is well worth reading. However, today I thought I'd just briefly discuss this idea of the gate of liberation.

There is a gate within us. That is, there is an opening within us, a place where something can leave and something can enter.

Now, generally speaking we don't experience our inner state as having closed parts, open parts, apertures or walls. There is just this thing we call a "mind"- which, as Gurdjieff points out, is really just a formatory apparatus, or, a non-intelligent piece of machinery which we inhabit, identify with, and assign a static value to which we refer to as "I."

Except under unusual circumstances, we don't experience the inner state as arising from the unity of intelligence, emotion, and physical function, and we don't see that as we are, we inhabit a form of our own that, in our very unawareness itself, has constricted us. Implicit in our failure to notice walls is a failure to look for gates. If we do, we look for gates in the mind, which is exactly where the walls are.

If we even hear about gates, and then stare at walls for long enough, walls begin to look like gates; soon enough, we convince ourselves that they are gates. Still within the mind, we do not know the difference.

Then we come to the question of liberation. The inference is that there is a way to become free of this state. To walk out of where we are into a new place. On the other side of the gate is something else. It is not a place where we remain forever, perhaps: there is leaving and entering, so it is a flexible state, one that allows for us to keep a degree of freedom in regard to it: which is in itself a prerequisite of liberation.

In order to do this we need to take hold of the gate.

How can that happen? What is the gate? How do we take hold of the gate? How does it enter a person?

I'm sure there are many points of view on this subject. I can only speak from where I am myself, which is not, in its essence, philosophical.

Here is how I find it:

Within us, if we can find it, is a finer materiality that does not arise from the mind.

It is a vibration that gently feeds our Being, leading it in the direction of a more intimate relationship with life: a more sensitive one that includes both the inner and the outer states in a different form of encapsulation. It emerges from flowers, is fed by flowers, and feeds flowers. From it blossoms open, and the blossoms are blossoms of compassion and warmth.

This finer substance lies on the doorstep of the gate of liberation. Within us, discovered, it becomes the whole earth, because we see that there is no earth--no consciousness, no dwelling place where the nascent property called essence can arise and grow-- without it.

It takes time and effort to find this within ourselves. At first, like any wild and untamed animal it is shy and elusive, but with diligence we can befriend the Friend. It is this essential quality of befriending the Friend that Chogyam Trungpa calls us to when he speaks of the Open Way.

This morning, while walking the famous dog Isabel, I thought of it this way:

The outer world is the moon, the planetary body that creates the tidal forces that attract and repel us. As we inhabit it in identification--or attachment, as the Buddhists call it-- we lose ourselves to that gravity. Gurdjieff explained this property of man's existence as the tendency for him to feed the moon--something that was once necessary for the maintenance of the planet, but no longer required.

The inner world is the earth. We need to inherit the earth in order to reside within it, and resist the gravitational attractions that continually consume our inner life. Forming a relationship to the finer materiality within offers us this possibility.

And then, there is the sun...

Well, perhaps that is another subject for another post.

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The upside-down man, and laws of accident

Perhaps the most famous esoteric image of the upside down man is the hanged man in the tarot. This is my own upside-down man, painted in what seems to me to be a much earlier era ( about 19 years ago) of my life. Vast chasms separate me from that time, that age, that state. Impossible, from that then- or so it seems--to predict this now, although they are entirely contiguous.

Yet here I am. And it seems (flying directly in the face of the anti-deterministic hypothesis I posed yesterday) that it couldn't be any other way- that that then was always destined to become this now--irrevocably, irretrievably, inevitably.

Summary: we don't know. We're upside down to begin with: tiny particles in an impossibly huge universe, collapsed even further into the tiny, frenetic singularities of our own egos, blind to nature, blind to consequence...

blind to ourselves.

So how could we possibly know where we're headed? We can't. The element of unpredictability--Gurdjieff would have called it the law of accident--that exists at the quantum level of the universe suggests that everything creates its possibilities through an inexactitude--a potential expressed by an unknowing quality of instability, the possibility that everything could veer off in a new direction at any moment.

Indeed, we find such "lawful inexactitudes" in the development of the rate of vibration built into the very fabric of Gurdjieff's enneagram, where "shocks" are needed to keep everything moving on a predictable course. Gurdjieff, in fact, advises us that these deviations were intentionally created and introduced into the fabric of our universe by God.

The perhaps inevitable conclusion: God wanted it to be possible for things to go "wrong."

We all assume--don't we?" that our idea of the predictable course, of orderly progressions, neatly arranged circumstances that flow from one another, is the most desirable. Never mind the fact that Gurdjieff told us that our "carriage" was designed to travel on rocky, lumpy, uneven--yes, unpredictable-- roads, and that it needed that in order to, as he said, "lubricate the joints." Nope. Never mind that. We're all in the paving business, aren't we, busily smoothing out the road, trying to make sure everything proceeds in absolute defiance--insofar as possible--of the law of accident, in defiance of natural unevenness, in definace of the natural tendency towards and even the necessity of


What if the system does not just need the exactitudes--the potential for "correct" progression, the whole development of "completed" octaves, but also the inexactitudes? What if the law of accident--which Ouspensky so valiantly hoped to crawl out from under by developing-- is inescapable, because it is so fundamental to the universe that everything runs on it?

An uncomfortable question.

We might remind ourselves that in Beelzebub's recounting of our planetary history, even Archangels came under the law of accident and made mistakes. Smacking huge asteroids into planets--i.e., Earth-- where they should not have been smacked.


According to those nit-picking biologists who like to trumpet the absolutely accidental origin of everything--as though there were only one law (personally picked, of course, by them, since as experts they know everything) , the law of accident alone runs the progress of evolution.

They're on to something, of course, because that law is very important in every kind of evolution (including, we might even heretically surmise, spiritual evolution) but it's not the only law. Laws of physics and chemistry constrain the development of biological life so tightly that it's unlikely we could have ended up with anything other than what we see in front of us now.

Ever. Anywhere.

So there appears to be a balance of some kind struck between determinism and random accident. Both order and chaos are necessary. If we didn't have order, we wouldn't recognize chaos when we saw it, and vice versa. This holds true for our inner state. We need to experience dissipation in order to know what containment would be; we must sin, in order to "find the good path;" the fruit of our attentiveness would never arise from anywhere, were it not from the rich and fertile ground of our inattentiveness.

So we have to be upside down sometimes. Just not all the time.

Might as well accept it with grace, as the stars and moon and animals look on.

May your buds birth flowers, and your flowers bear fruit.

Monday, September 17, 2007

We don't know what's possible

I just began reading a book by Nicholas Taleb called "The Black Swan" about the impact of the highly improbable on human life.

Can't say enough good things about this book, which is an exciting investigation of the flaws, errors and outright wrong assumptions rampant in mankind's ordinary mode of "thinking." Go buy it and read it. The prologue alone is worth the price of admission.

The book serves to remind us that we don't know what is possible. Our intellectual, emotional and physical lives are built on an endless series of assumptions that bear little relationship to what actually happens. Gurdjieff himself pointed this out when he mentioned to Ouspensky that men spend an absolutely enormous amount of their energy worrying about things that they think will happen, but almost never spend any time worrying about the things that can, will, and do happen.

Perhaps the whole point is that we can't think of what will happen. And, in fact, Taleb points out--much like Gurdjieff and Dogen--that our experts aren't expert, and that what we think is thinking isn't actually thinking.

The man who swims through the water will always get further than the one who mixes cement into it and then tries to swim.

In the same way that it is nearly impossible to comprehend what might lie in front of us next in the unpredictable conditions we inhabit, it's equally impossible to predict what could happen to us in an inner sense. This means that, as some Zen schools believe, enlightenment could take place at any moment. We just don't know. Making any presumptions--positive or negative-- whatsoever about our possibilities is a mistake.

It brings to mind Jim George who, as I personally witnessed, once stood up in the presence of "mighty and powerful Beings" who were making sage pronouncements about what we couldn't know and couldn't do, and powerfully asserted:

"We don't know what's possible!"

Way to go, Mr. George. Bravo.

Since we don't know what's possible, if we have to make assumptions, to paraphrase Martin Luther, "Since we must assume , let us assume boldly." (He said sin instead of assume, which may mean much the same thing, come to think of it.)

While we are assuming boldly, let us boldly assume. Let us assume that many impossible things are possible. Let us assume that impossible things come true every day.

So anything is possible. And we might as well assume good things are possible for us in our inner life!

One more slightly tangential note that I think deserves a mention.

On Saturday night, at the dinner table, the family and guests were discussing if free will exists.

My stepson Michael brought up the idea that if it were possible (as in some perverse and gnomish theories perhaps it could be) to determine the exact location of every atom, molecule and quanta in the universe at a given moment and calculate the exact sum of all their effects on each other, one could predict exactly what would happen next.

This idea assumes an absolutely deterministic universe. In a universe of this nature no free will would be possible.

We don't live in such a universe. All the reductionist analysis in the world cannot change the fact that at the quantum level, the location and momentum of any given particle exists only as a probability. Ergo, quantum physics offers us free will in a truly scientific form: at the root of physical reality lies an "instability of choice" that allows for an infinite number of possibilities to be manifest--all of them, in their unique individuality, ultimately unpredictable.

We could go further and mention mathematical models which predict that, if the universe is truly infinite--as it rather appears to be at present--then at a relatively low number (low relative to inifinity, that is) the probability of seemingly "impossible" events--such as there being exact duplicates of our solar systems, planets, and ourselves, right down to the exact details of our lives--becomes very nearly 100%.

Kinda scary, I think, so we better not mention that stuff.

May your own improbabilities become manifest in joyous ways!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Let the water be water

In "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism," Trungpa discusses--among many other things--the tendency we all have to turn everything we encounter into a thing.

I have mentioned before that we all tend to carry our past around like a stone. It often becomes a burden that weighs us down, and a reason to fault ourselves. Speaking as a recovering alcoholic, I know this aspect of existence more intimately than I'd like to.

This weekend I described it to Neal thus: we receive the water of our lives--the flowing, constantly mutable series of events and impressions that arrive on our perceptual doorstep-and the first thing we do is take the dry, dusty lime and sand of our previous impressions and associations and mix them into it.

What we end up with is cement.

We like to do this, because by making cement out of life as it arrives, we think we are getting something--if you'll excuse the pun--more concrete that way. Something lasting, something that will serve us in the future, because we own it.

As if we could own anything--the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we tread on.

We don't see that by making concrete, we are actually just creating more weight to carry. If we just let the water be water, we're better off. If we have to carry anything, better we carry water than concrete. At least water can quench our thirst. All concrete can do is wear us out.

Don't get me wrong. We all need a foundation upon which to build, but the foundation should not be a set of static concrete blocks laid down in a rigid square. The foundation of practice is in the body. In other words, the establishment of the beginning of where we come from within the present state of sensation is where we build foundation. If there is a rock on which we build our church, this would be it. Not rocks made of previous experiences, good or bad, which we want to cling to.

The body is our continent, the place where our inner civilization arises. Conversely, our emotions are the continental weather: wind and rain, drought, tornadoes, heat, and ice. The weather is force: motive, exciting, compelling. Every emotional event seems utterly convincing and exciting.

Unfortunately, we constantly mistake the weather for the continent. We want what we consider to be the "good" weather in our lives to be permanent. And because we generally lack any intelligent discrimination, even destructive elements of our emotional life such as resentment and jealousy easily become "good"in our eyes.

So we desperately cling to our likes and dislikes, our loves, our hatreds, a thousand other emotional reactions. Unfortunately, by attempting to turn them into something solid, we twist them out of shape. When you try to tie something down that by its very nature needs to be in movement, it will eventually wither and die, no matter how hard you try to nourish it.

The movement needs to be constant, it needs to be accepted, but we cannot allow ourselves to become the weather. Unless the feet of our mind are firmly rooted in the soil of the continent, this emotive force drags us in every direction willy-nilly. Gurdjieff describes a man fallen prey to the vissitudes of his emotional weather both in the last chapter of Beelzebub and in Views From the Real World.

It would be helpful for us to begin to really discriminate between the continent of body and the weather of emotion by applying our intelligence as third force. It's this three-centered balance within ordinary life that can help us discover what Trungpa called "The Open Way:" a way defined by warmth and compassion, intelligence and engagement, and perhaps above all, a right self-valuation that affirms our essential worth, even under the most adverse of changing circumstances.

Ultimately, if we don't tinker with the water of our life--mix in the sterile dryness of our attitudes and harden it--the water of life becomes a medium of support. We float on the water of our entire life--all the impressions we have ever had--and let them buoy us up in this present moment.

There's a true joyfulness in this, even in the midst of the trials we are all required to face.

So: let the water be water.

And may your trees bear fruit.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Confrontation carries with it the meaning of conflict, of difficulty, of something to be avoided. Nonetheless, we all recognize that it is sometimes necessary. Perhaps we are forced to confront an uncomfortable truth about ourselves or our lives; we are required to confront an adversary who has a destructive wish; we confront our family members or friends when we disagree with them.

This is all outer confrontation. It pales in comparison to the need for inner confrontation: the moment when we really come up against how we are within, how confused and poverty-stricken our reactions and attitudes are, how saturated with fantasy our imaginations are.

Inner confrontation is, in fact, almost constantly required. We need to develop enough presence to police the inner state, to examine each associative arising, to question it ruthlessly.

This does not mean to examine ourselves like the Spanish Inquisition. Inner confrontation should never enlist that personal Torquemada each one of us nurses; no, he cannot be invited under any circumstances. The confrontation must instead be a compassionate confrontation, one in which we face our inner state with love, and discover a care-filled willingness to go against the destructive impulses--the immeasurable and unrelenting temptations--that flit through the emotional weather of our ordinary state. I say emotional weather, because what we so often find ourselves locked in struggle with is a powerful emotive impulse of one kind or another.

Emotions breed identification. Identification prevents confrontation. If there's no separation from conditions, if we have tilled no soil and cultivated no depth that can offer us a refuge from the temptation of immediate conditions, then we become the conditions.

Conditions cannot confront themselves. They require an opposing force--not, however, one that acts through force, which is what we usually deploy when resisting our impulses. Instead there needs to be a solidity, a sincerity. This doesn't have to be a powerful force; what it needs is to be intact. We need to be willing to look ourselves right in the whites of our inner eyes as we manifest. How are we? What are we doing right now? This is what Gurdjieff called the separation of the self from the self.

This inner confrontation has an inestimable positive value, as long as it isn't conducted in a belligerent manner. It's very important to avoid the self-deprecation typical of so much of our introspection, to confront even that, and bring something more wholesome to the situation.

In the end, we may find we can confront and oppose ourselves with honor, dignity, and respect.

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Depth perception

For a moment, writing within this present moment.

Now, perhaps, read within this moment. If you wish.

When impressions penetrate into the organism in a different way, we discover what it means for life to acquire depth: not intellectual depth, but a depth born of the sensations that arise within the moment.

In sleep, there is a flatness. We don't know that, because when we are contained within flatness, there is no awareness of depth, or even the existence of depth.

Depth is love; depth is compassion; depth is sensitivity. Because we sincerely believe we are--at least in part--experiencers and perceivers of these qualities, we make no real attempt to acquire them. We are unable to discriminate between flat land, mountains, hills, and valleys, because we know only flat land, and mistake it for mountains, hills, and valleys.

Depth is both within and without: there is only depth. In dividing within from without, we accidentally erase the dimension from our perception. It's only when we reside within and without, simultaneously, that we discover there is such a thing as depth.

Depth is alive. If we can find it, depth will not let go of us so easily, because she is a jealous mistress. She has been lonely for so long that once company arrives, she does not want to let it leave. In fact a romance springs up quite readily between depth and Being; surprisingly, depth always keeps her toes in the pool one way or another, once we offer her some water.

There is depth within breath; depth within sight; depth within the body and depth within the mind. A cultivation of the expression of depth within Being can begin anywhere.It can begin directly.

It can begin now.

This morning I came across a further remark in Dogen's Shobogenzo about perseverance which I find compelling:

"The Budhha's supreme and fine truth is to persevere for vast kalpas in difficult conduct and painful conduct, and to endure what it is hard to endure. How can one hope to seek the true vehicle with small virtue and small wisdom, and a trivial and conceited mind? On another occasion he says , "The Dharma seal of the Buddhas is not got from other people."

"This right dharma-eye treasury has been passed on in face-to-face transmission by the raising of an eyebrow and the winking of an eye; it has been given with body, mind, bones, and marrow; it has been received with body, mind, bones, and marrow; it has been transmitted and received before the body and after the body; and it has been transmitted and received on the mind and outside of mind." (Nishijima and Cross translation, Book 3, page 53, Dogen Sangha press.)

To expound the Dharma is to live within depth.

You cannot get this from other people. It arises within, from wells to the roots of trees. Nourished by water, encouragement, and light, flowers bloom and fruits ripen. In this life, every aspect is necessary, every condition sufficient.

Today, tomorrow, may we find our depth in togetherness.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Flowers, in teeth-gnashing conditions

Today was a day when life seemed to arrange itself strictly in the interests of promoting frustration. It took 2 1/2 hours to drive to work (it's usually an hour) and just about every annoying thing that can happen at work happened twice.

This is the kind of day when only a sound inner foundation can sustain one's sanity. Time and again I found myself neatly divided between the ordinary frustration, and consequent emotional reaction, of life, and the positive sustenance that a relationship with the inner flow of energy can produce.

It reminds me of the remark Madame De Salzmann left us with before she died:

"Be there in relation to a force. Then it doesn't matter so much, what happens."

Like so many of Dogen's anti-dialectical constructions, which by being both true and not true transcend polarity through unity, the proposition allows us to inhabit two worlds simultaneously: the ordinary world, with its absolute, inevitable, and in fact entirely lawful manifestations, and an inner world that operates under a set of laws more independent of circumstance.

There's no escaping conditions. There is no escaping the superficial, ordinary reaction to conditions. There is the opportunity to invest in conditions, to allow them, and our reactions to them, to feed us in a different way. As long as we are acquiring food from conditions, and are aware of that, by relationship to the organism, we are already not so identified with them. So there once again is the value of sensation--for me, in this case, writ large within the context of an ordinary business life.

...My wife Neal just asked, "what is the sound of one tooth gnashing?"

I am tempted to try and say something poetically clever to wrap this up, but it's been a trying day, and the brain wants to flake.

I think I'll let it.

Let us wish together: may any clenched teeth we encounter tomorrow be adorned with the glorious flowers of inner work-!

Monday, September 10, 2007

persistence, part two

I will warn you in advance, this is going to sound/look contrived. When I write about something one day, and then discover it in my Dogen reading the following morning--which keeps happening to me--I always feel obliged to report it, bogus though it may seem.

...This kind of synchronicity keeps smacking me in the face. What can I say?

We find ourselves together, for this moment, in Chapter 48 of the Shobogenzo, "Expounding the Mind and Expounding the Nature."

For those who do not believe that intellect is a real and material force, necessary for the full understanding of truth, this chapter is essential reading. However, today we're just going to take a look at what Dogen says in book 3, page 46: (Nishijima and Cross translation, Dogen Sangha Press.)

"...from the time we establish the bodhi-mind and direct ourselves towards training in the way of the Buddha, we sincerely practice difficult practices; and at that time, though we keep practicing, in a hundred efforts we never hit the target once. Nevertheless, sometimes following good counselors and sometimes following the sutras, we gradually become able to hit the target. One hit of the target now is by virtue of hundreds of misses in the past; it is the maturation of hundreds of misses. Listening to the teachings, training in the truth, and attaining the state of experience are all like this. Even though yesterday's attempts to expound the mind and to expound the nature were a hundred misses, the hundred missed attempts to expound the mind and to expound the nature yesterday are suddenly a hit today."

A little later, Dogen continues: "The Buddha-way, at the time of the first establishment of the will, is the Buddha-way; and at the time of realization of the right state of truth, it is the Buddha-way. The beginning, the middle, and the end are each the Buddha-way. It is like someone walking 1,000 miles: the first step is one in 1,000 miles and the thousandth step is one in 1,000 miles. Though the first step and the thousandth step are different, the 1,000 miles are the same."

These comments reinforce and underline the oneness of everything: every result is composed of all the efforts that went into it, not just the last one. All efforts and all results are part of truth.

Even the "failed" effort cannot be separated from the Truth.

So there are no failed efforts; there are only efforts, and there is only Truth. The first effort is as important as the middle effort, and the last effort.

In "Branching Streams flow in the Darkness," Suzuki Roshi speaks of how his own dullness and stupidity ultimately became a vital asset in his search. They were what supported his own persistence, long after the shining stars around him had burned themselves out.

This means, for me, that when I have a disorganized and seemingly unproductive sitting, like the one that I had this morning, I can accept it in the surety that a good coin, even when bent, is still made of true metal.

And I think that perhaps, in the end, it is not the silver, brass, or gold that we pay with, but rather the willingness to pay that matters.

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

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Persistence, and other aspects

The modern science of geology was born during the Victorian era. During this period, the generally accepted understanding of landscape was that it was formed gradually, over immense periods of time. Erosion, sedimentation, burial, compression, uplift- all of this took place slowly and steadily. It wasn't until the twentieth century that the essentially cataclysmic and sensational nature of many geologic processes was understood, and added to the overall picture of how landscapes form.

Mirroring this sensibility, during the 700's, Northern Chinese Ch'an (Zen) schools understood enlightenment as a gradual practice; the southern schools, however, maintained that enlightenment was sudden and immediate. The competing arguments eventually became counterproductive and even distracting to practice.

Consequently, Ch'an master Sekito Kisen eventually wrote the famous Sandokai poem which attempted to bridge the gap between the two schools. (Suzuki Roshi's excellent book Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness discusses the poem, and many other Zen ideas. Highly recommended reading.)

The easy way out for everyone is to contend that both points are true: enlightenment is immediate, and enlightenment is gradual. This, however, is a strictly philosophical solution. It's a bit harder to implement anything on the ground floor of practice.

In this day and age, everyone wants to race to the top. The ground floor isn't interesting to us. We're all in a way big hurry. It's hard to remember we're not in the hedge fund management business, where whole lifetimes of salary get earned in a single week. It takes time to earn anything worthwhile.

In AA meeting rooms one often sees a sign that says :"The elevator to sobriety is broken. Please use the steps."

Yesterday it occurred to me that in my own experience, everything that becomes possible, becomes possible because of persistence. One must be willing to make an effort not once, not ten times, not a hundred times, but ten thousand times. In other words, the foundation of inner practice is indeed gradual, magnificently geologic in its time scale.

Indeed, persistence pays off in something that may appear to happen instantaneously. Earth movements work like this. For a thousand years, perhaps, plates move imperceptibly along a fault line until enough pressure has built up, and suddenly bang! An earthquake occurs. The earthquake alters the landscape immediately, tangibly.

We now know that all of the work that went into creating the energy that ultimately caused that change was hidden from ordinary sight.

And think about this one... exactly what do we seek in our inner landscape... one earthquake after another?

For myself, I am dogged in my persistence, and even actively averse to attempting to storm the gates of heaven. I'm not a warrior but a gardener: not a scaler of walls, but a cultivator of flowers. There is no need to race to heaven.

As Suzuki said in Branching Streams (p.71):

"Just to feel good, we study, and just to feel better we practice Zazen. No one knows what will happen to us after sitting for one, two, or ten years. No one knows, and it is right that no one knows. Just to feel good we sit Zazen, actually. Eventually that kind of purposeless practice will help you."

Well, of course, I must confess my own practice is hardly purposeless. But his insight remains valid: persistence must become the heart of practice. Impatience only serves our dissipation. Within attentive containment, active persistence, we may discover a true connection to the heart.

In the meantime, we need to live this ordinary life,a best we can, with utmost joy. As I said to my wife yesterday:

You gotta live a little, or else you'll never notice it when you're dead.

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