Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The four elements of social relations

In Buddhism, there are four ordinary life-practices considered as important to one who pursues the Buddha's truth. All of them might fall under the umbrella of what Gurdjieff called "external considering."

Dogen writes about these four practices in the Shobogenzo, chapter 45, "Bodaisatta-Shisobo," or, "Four Elements of a Bodhisattva's Social Relations." In the Nishijima and Cross translation (volume 3, page 25), they are cited as follows:

"First is free giving. Second is kind speech. Third is helpful conduct. Fourth is cooperation."

As one might expect--as usual--Dogen has eloquent, wonderful things to say about the value of these practices; recommended reading. You don't need to be a Buddhist to see the merit in these concepts, from the outer point of view.

Today, however, let's examine these same concepts from an inner point of view, and see what they might mean in relationship to inner practice.

In my own experience, outer practice reflects inner practice, so in order to practice these four elements of relationship outwardly, we first need to attempt to understand and practice them inwardly. (Of course, one might argue that by outward practice one eventually acquires a level of experience that translates to inward practice--Gurdjieff recommended that one pretend one had a quality one wished to acquire, in order to move in that direction, and one of my yoga-savvy friends has more than once suggested to me his own interesting versions of the same practice.)

In the inner sense, free giving means offering ourselves to ourself. In self-observation, we willingly offer to ourselves what we are. Whatever we are, it is available to us, and we can render it up unto ourselves without reservations. No constriction, no artificial manipulation of what we are, how we are, where we are.

Chogyam Trungpa wrote about this in "Cutting through Spiritual Materialism:" (Shambala press, 1973, page 48)

"Marpa was just an ordinary person, involved in living every detail of his life. He never tried to be someone special. When he lost his temper, he just lost it and beat people. He just did it. Religious fanatics, on the other hand, are always trying to live up to some model of how it is all supposed to be. They try to win people over by coming on very strong and frantic, as though they were completely pure and good. But I think that attempting to prove that you are good indicates fear of some kind."

Free giving is giving ourselves to ourselves, fearlessly.

Kind speech is the inner act of compassionate treatment of self. As we see how we are, we see without judgment. We engage in an inner dialog that is positive, supportive, forgiving. There's no need to beat ourselves up because we can't remember ourselves, or we don't work, or cannot "do." No, instead, we kindly, compassionately, lovingly accept what we are in our inner dialogs.

Helpful conduct is assisting ourselves as best we can in our inner effort. As we turn inward, as we observe, as we encounter ourselves, we attempt to support ourselves by making choices that further our aim, and help foster non-destructive relationship with both inner and outer circumstances. We practice conservation: containment. We attempt to order our inner life so as to make more energy available for our work.

Cooperation is the effort to encourage inner unity. As we discover our various parts, we make efforts to bring them into relationship in inner community. Cooperation fosters the growth and opening of our inner flowers.

So all of these meritorious outward practices have tangible value in relationship to the question of our inner practice.

Gurdjieff might have called it "inner outer considering."

...Personally, I think Dogen would have liked that one.

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

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