Sunday, October 28, 2007

what can help?

We are playing a little catch-up here. Neal arrived in Bangkok Thursday night (well, actually, it was Friday morning very early) and we spent the last two days touring around Bangkok. Today we got to Cambodia, and went out on one of the many lakes in the immediate vicinity.

This evening over dinner, we began to talk about what it is we think can help people in their work.

What is it that can help us? What is it that can help other people?

A number of things got discussed. One thing that I certainly think can help each individual in their own work is to discover their own authority. Having an authority in ordinary life is different than discovering an inner authority. The inner authority grows out of a new kind of connection between the centers. It leads us in the direction of what would be real self-confidence, that is, something that springs from the organism and not from the psychology of our life.

Another thing we talked about was the idea about making the work organic. In taking it into the organism and truly seeing that the centers are not connected, truly seeing the parts and sensing what a real connection might mean.

A third thing that was discussed was the issue of keeping it personal. The sharing of our work in the most real and open-hearted manner possible between people is essential to our growth and the growth of those around us.

These seem to be pretty simple things. They certainly can't be compared to the massive scale of Buddhism we have experienced over the past few days, and which is about to become ever more massive as we tour through Angkor. I think perhaps this is part of the difficulty. Religious ideas, work ideas, ideas in general become this gargantuan edifice, overwhelming in scale, that looms over everything that we think we are and everything we think we are doing. The ideas themselves eventually cause us to forget that the work itself is not just about the ideas. The work is about something much more direct. The ideas are not enough anymore a certain point.

A good friend of mine from Arkansas sent me a quote from Madame de Salzmann today which I received courtesy of that miraculous little device, my Blackberry. The quote was taken from Ravi Ravindra's "Heart Without Measure"-- a book I heartily recommend for those of you who have not read it yet -- and it was to the same effect. Eventually the ideas are not enough.

We have to truly see that we are not connected inside.

Of course, that is just the beginning. Ultimately, we must go much deeper. But that is where we start.

By the way--- given our trip to Angkor, it’s quite possible I will wait to wrap up the last two divisions of the Society of Akhldanns until next week, and instead report on impressions from here in Cambodia.

We’ll see…

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The fifth division


The business portion of my trip to Asia is now officially over, excepting one final dinner appointment. From here it is on to Bangkok, and from there, where --insh'Allah--my lovely wife will meet me, we fly to Cambodia, where we will be seeing Angkor Wat.

Stay tuned for what should be some extremely cool photos.

Finally, today, we get back to the Society of Akhldanns. We are going to briefly examine the fifth division, which corresponds to the number seven in the multiplications on the enneagram, or, the throat chakra.

This one, my friends, is one of the easier ones.

Gurdjieff's alter ego Beelzebub tells us:

"The members of the fifth group were called 'Akhldann-harnosovors,' which meant that they were occupied with the study of the branch of knowledge that combined the two contemporary terrestrial sciences called by your favorites 'chemistry' and 'physics.'

Let's begin by understanding that when we hear about this location, we cannot take the term "throat" too literally. The throat encompasses a complex area including the medulla oblongata, and does not actually have so much to do with the esophagus.

It seems rather likely, here, that Gurdjieff is pointing us in the direction of studying the exchange of substances. It's not insignificant that in the yoga schools (see Paramahansa Yogananda's work) the medulla oblongata is considered to be the chief accumulator for astral energies. More importantly, perhaps, we know that Gurdjieff said many specific things about the ingestion of air, which in its most immediate physical sense begins in the center of the head in this location. So the location is what we might call a "metaphysically loaded" one.

What do you think? Might we consider studying our experience of air as it enters our nostrils (Dogen mentions nostrils a lot, see yesterday's post) in a more than theoretical manner?

Being present to the arrival of air at the back of the nostrils is the beginning of the study of inner chemistry -- or at least, one of the potential beginnings.

The powerful and intimate neurological connections between the sinuses and the membranes lining the nose--our sense of smell-- with the limbic system are a medically verified fact. The bottom line is that the entire system of the emotional center is stimulated by the arrival of air if it is received with a conscious intention. This is why it is possible for scents to trigger huge floods of emotion and long forgotten memories. When Rumi speaks of the smell of musk, and Dogen speaks of the scent of plum blossoms, they point us in the direction of an incredibly delicate sensibility, a direction which leads us towards the taste of our lives,

...the very fragrance of our being itself.

We can undertake a great deal of personal work in terms of placing the attention at the back of the nostrils as we breathe in. The Zen exercise "piercing the nostrils" is all about this kind of work. We need to understand how to penetrate the experience of the arrival of air, as it carries higher substances into us.

In penetrating the experience with the attention, we "pierce" the nostrils: they become permeable to something new and quite different.

Here we find a path leading directly to the practical study of personal inner chemistry, a path which does not lie in the realm of Gurdjieff's complex theories, but rather in the experience itself.

A place where we might, if we are lucky, catch an echo of the moaning of dragons.

I am going to refrain from describing any of the exercises one might undertake here in any specific detail. The reader needs to examine this question quite directly in their own meditation and in their daily, ordinary practice. The potential for discovery lies within the discoverer, not within the technique or the instruction.

Only an effort at consciousness itself can touch something conscious.

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Esoterica from Dogen

Every so often, while I am reading the Shobogenzo, I come across a set of passages that practically beg for interpretation. This morning was one of those times.

Perhaps I am a bad person for being willing to interpret; after all, so many people I know and respect (sometimes) insist we should not do these things. Even I myself agree, forked tongue firmly in mouth, that we shouldn't do these things.

Nonetheless, sometimes all of us do these things, don't we?

All the quotations in today's posting are taken from Nishijima and Cross' translation of the Shobogenzo, Dogen Sangha press, book 3, chapter 65, "Ryugin-The moaning of Dragons." And, as usual, I recommend that the reader get the book and read the entire chapter. It's better than Burger King.

I am going to offer you an idiosyncratic interpretation of some Buddhist terms here. Be forewarned, they probably depart from traditional Buddhist philosophical explanations.

This particular chapter begins with a story about Master Jisai of Tosu-zan Mountain in Joshu. Asked by a monk, "Among withered trees does the moaning of dragons exist or not?", he replies "I say that inside of skulls exists the Lion's roar."

The translators of the Shobogenzo claim that withered trees symbolize "the vivid state of non-emotion."

Well... I don't agree with them. The withered tree represents the human body where there is no connection within the centers.

Dogen says, "The withered trees of which the Buddhist patriarchs speak are in the learning in practice of the sea having dried." In other words, the water in the body is not flowing, and the learning of how we lack ourselves in this manner is a physical practice, not a learning of the mind.

"The Sea having dried is a tree having withered, and a tree having withered is [the vivid state of] meeting spring." Here we see that recognition of the state we are in -- one in which the inner energy does not flow properly -- brings us to a new beginning.

"Even a sprouting bud is the moaning of dragons among withered trees." The very first taste of energy flowing within the body is the moaning of dragons.

All of the experience of energy flowing within the body is, in fact, the moaning of dragons.

Opening each flower is the moaning of dragons.

Discovering the connections between the flowers is the moaning of dragons.

..."Leaves spread out from the roots: we call this state "a Buddhist patriarch."

So you see, when the dragons moan, when the water begins to flow, it is spring, and the leaves spread out from the roots. A connection between the body and the mind is formed.

"Root and branch should return to the fundamental: this is just learning of the state." Upon finding a new connection within ourselves, we return again and again to the beginning.

Here is what is, to me, one of the most interesting quotes from the passage: "At the same time, do, re, mi, fa, and so(l) are two or three former and latter instances of the moaning of dragons." Here Dogen connects the idea of the movement of energy within the body directly to the octave--specifically, to what we would call the development of the octave up through the first conscious shock, to the point where it meets five, or, the heart.


It gets better.

"A trace of joy still being retained is horns growing further on a head." This reference, reminiscent of the moment in Gurdjieff's literature where Beelzebub re acquires his horns and attain the sacred Anklad, pertains to the act of tending the ox, which is an inner work, not a metaphor.

"I wonder what words the dragons moan," he says a bit later. "We should ask this question. Moaning dragons are naturally a sound being voiced, or a matter being taken up, in the mud. They are the passing of the air inside the nostrils. We do not know what these words are describes the existence, in words, of dragons. Those who hear all share the loss: how sorrowful it is! The moaning of dragons and has now been realized by Kyogen, Sekiso, Sozan, and the others, becomes clouds and becomes water."

Here Dogen describes the rising of energy from the root; the attention to breath as it enters the body; the deep and sorrowful experience of becoming aware of ourselves through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Dragon. And within this awareness, we discover the gifts of clouds and water, we discover the material that will cause our withered inner tree to sprout new leaves.

And where does this lead us? It leads us here: "A trace of joy still being retained is the croaking of bullfrogs. A trace of consciousness still being retained is the singing of earthworms."

In other words, it leads us back to the earth, back to a magnificent, joyous, and fundamental experience of life that ties us into every other living organism.

Those of you who are tired of reading the wish that I post at the end of each essay--I'm sure that by now it appears to be an affectation to some of you-- might want to consider the meaning of the words in light of this set of passages from Dogen. They are chosen intentionally as a wish for each reader; they have a specific meaning; and my deepest wish for each one of you is that you discover for yourself what that meaning is.

Tomorrow I will try to steer us back in the direction of the society. Stay tuned.

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

Monday, October 22, 2007

Der Tod in Hong Kong

I promise you we'll get back to the society of Akhldanns. Today, however, I want to just write about some impressions I'm having here in Hong Kong.

Those of you familiar with Thomas Mann will no doubt recognize the title reference to the famous short story "Death in Venice" (Der Tod in Venedig.).

About a year ago, the husband of a very old friend who did sourcing over here was on a business trip, when he suddenly dropped stone dead of a heart attack. He was young- in his 40's.

Now I can't help thinking of John every time I come over here.

Yesterday, walking along the waterfront, I watched a cat stalking birds in the underbrush around the HK art museum. Death- or the inference of it- was there, lurking in the midst of all the money, commerce, and architecture.

I got into the museum, and lo and behold, the big event was a display of "treasures" from the british museum. Among them, a complete, perfectly preserved mummy from Egypt.

Death again, ...on public display for every gawking gawker. I wondered to myself how the woman wrapped in shroud would have felt while she was alive, had she been told her body would be on public display on the other side of the world two thousand years later. ...Is this simply pornography, renamed "science?"

In the midst of this egocentric frenzy we call "life," we all forget- completely- how absolutely temporary life is. Caught up in our pursuit of personal aims and goals- all the "desires" that religions warn us against- we don't see that we need to be preparing ourselves to face death. And no matter who we are, we're all absolutely equal in the eyes of death.

Perhaps Dogen understood just how immanent death is for every single one of us. Why else would he have advised us to "practice as though extinguishing flames from around our head?" And of course we have Gurdjieff's Beelzebub remarking that the only remaining factor that might yet serve to spur man to a real spiritual effort in his life would be to develop an irrevocable, organic sense of his own mortality.

The absolute paradigm for this level of existence is the organism. The lessons we are here to learn can't be learned without it. And one of those lessons-perhaps the greatest one of all- is death.

Where is our humility in the midst of our mortality? Can we touch that, even if just for a moment?

Friday, October 19, 2007

An interlude, and some word derivations

This summer, I spent some time on a sound team editing recordings of Peggy Flinsch reading "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson." Those recordings will be released to the public in a complete form sometime next year.

While I was involved with this project, I met and worked with Ted Lebar. Ted has spent a number of years doing research on the meaning of many of the unique words contained in the book. I asked him whether he could offer us any insight into some of the specific meanings of the words used for the descriptions of the society of Akhldanns.

His response is below, edited a bit, but otherwise essentially intact. Thanks to Ted for sharing some of his work with us.

Akhl, means wise, learned. Dan at the end, means ending to something like "belonging to a particular person, place, order or profession". This is Persian. This word exists also in Turkomen, and Armenian. It can also mean morality. So, sounds like "Society of wise or learned people, where morals are part of it.

(Armenian) accustomed, used to, inured, trained, usual and customary. Also, ordinary.

Fahs (for foh), means examining, investigating, inquiring.

Stratosovors, would they be studying something in the stratosphere?

(Ted did not have derivation for this word.)

Psychsovors sounds like a study of Psyche?

Harnosovors, in Armenian for harnosovors "
Harnuadz" means mixture, composition, temper or tempering, consanguity, relationship.

Mistesovors, are they studying mysteries of somekind?

Gez (Turkmen), means measure of distance. In Armenian, Gazmuti (for gezpadji) means construction, organization, order, formation, structure.

As to the word "Silkurnano," (means something akin to mathematics) there is nothing in any of the dictionaries in my possession.

Tomorrow we'll return to a discussion of the seven divisions of the society.

the fourth division

As of today, it does not cease to astonish me as to the amount of energy and effort it takes to maintain a regular posting to this site. At this point in time, I am probably creeping up on 200,000 words worth of commentary about personal effort, the Gurdjieff work, and Zen Buddhism, which is the rough equivalent of two full-length novels.

I never set out to do that. I simply set out to incrementally record my daily observations about my own work and the Gurdjieff work in general. And, as always, it is the forward movement within life that interests me, not what is left behind. I was like that as an artist; I am like that as a writer, and if you listen to my music, you may notice that it also shares that quality.

We all live within the constraints of the merciless heropass; give it its due.

Let's move on to the fourth division of the society of Akhldanns, which in our hypothetical allegory corresponds to the number five on the enneagram, or, the heart. Here's the quote from Gurdjieff's Beelzebiub:

"The members of the fourth group were called 'Akhldann-psychosovors,' a name designating those members of the society who made observations of the perceptions, experiencings, and manifestations of beings like themselves--observations that they verified statistically."

What interests me about this particular division is that there is an inference that it involves compassion.

One might argue I am reading into it -- of course one can make that argument for the whole enterprise --but it seems to me that to outwardly consider, to practice compassion, is precisely to observe the perceptions and experiencings of other beings.

This is the practice of putting ourselves in their shoes -- a practice Gurdjieff said we should always engage in ("consider outwardly always, inwardly never.") In effect, he instructed us to always live our lives first from the heart. To live first from a compassionate observation of our fellow men, a consonance of emotion, a tolerance born of understanding that others labor under the same misapprehensions and organic conditions that we do.

The specific point in the body that this center relates to is the center of the spine. We can sense the top of the spine; we can sense the bottom of the spine, as we do when we attempt to seek the understanding of the first division. We can even connect the top and the bottom of the spine, possibly. But unless the center of the spine participates, the connection is not complete. The origin and the consummation of the connection do not complete themselves without the life of the connection, and the life of the connection lies in the center, just as the essential nature of our being lies within the center of our being.

To open the heart is a sacred task. Every man has this opportunity within him; few men understand that this is an organic task. Heaven and earth cannot be joined unless man makes the effort to act as a mediator from the center of his own life. If a man undertakes this task, and succeeds even in a small measure, it will transform his nature and his understanding in a permanent manner.

I'm not speaking here about a transformation of attitude, but a transformation of experience.

Transformation of attitude in the absence of experience is temporary, fugitive. Within the transformation of experience lives the birth of a more real attitude.

In my own experience, when we invest ourselves within the opening of this particular flower, compassion becomes unavoidable, fundamental, irrevocable. This does not mean that the condition becomes permanent; it does mean that for as long as we are within the capacities of this center, negativity becomes impossible.

Of course, within those conditions, sorrow becomes inevitable. We cannot help but suffer our own lack when our parts begin to connect in a right manner. And in that seeing of our own lack, we discover that organic compassion which leads us to meet our fellow man on level ground, instead of coming at him from the soap box we like to prop under our feet.

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

Thursday, October 18, 2007

the third division

Today I flew into Guangzhou. Got to the hotel rather late. Fortunately I have today's post prepared... tomorrow, that may be a wee bit more difficult to pull off.

On examination, for me, the most difficult division of the society of Akhldanns to interpret in the context of inner divisions of work according to “six flowers” is the third section. I called out this difficulty when I originally wrote the essay about the allegory. It deserves some further scrutiny.

This section of the society corresponds, on the enneagram, to the number 4, or, the solar plexus.

In Beelzebub, Gurdjieff shares the following observations with us:

"The members belonging to the third section were called 'Akhldann-metrosovors,' which meant beings occupied with the study of that branch of knowledge similar to our 'silkoornano,' corresponding in part to what your contemporary favorites call 'mathematics.'”

I pondered this at some length over the past day, thinking about what “mathematics” consists of.

Mathematics is a system of logic that operates according to an established system of prestated laws.

Moreover, the practical application of mathematics is to describe real-world events in logical terms.

In Chapter 23, Gurdjieff says that Belcultassi, the founder of the Society of Akhldanns,

“…began to make similar sincere observations of impressions--coming from without as well as from within--at the very moment they were perceived by his common presence; and he made all these observations with the same exhaustive, conscious verifications of how these impressions were perceived by each of his spiritualized parts, when and how they were experienced by the whole of his presence, and for what manifestations they became the impulses.

"These conscious observations and impartial verifications at last convinced Belcultassi that in his common presence something was proceeding not as it should proceed according to sane being-logic.”

Once again we see reference to the effort to perceive with each of one’s spiritualized parts, which is the selfsame subject of this particular series of essays. And here we discover, moreover, that our common presences ought to contain a process of “sane being-logic.”

If so, where would we find that? Could the organic seat of this capacity be resident in the solar plexus?

The solar plexus has a unique place in various esoteric understandings of man’s body and being: repository of energy, storage center, place of gravitation, and so on. It’s the central location of the lower story of the body; a “collecting area.”

Moving past the literal, we come to the possibility that a “calculus of Being” may be resident within the perceptive abilities of this center. Only an attempt to invest ourselves within it and discover the grounding properties it offers can lead us towards any kind of verification.

When we examine the comment about the society in detail, we notice that it is said the work of the third division of the society corresponded “in parts“ to what we call mathematics. The inference is that there is more to it than just mathematics alone. I think we might presume that there is an indication here about studying the law of octaves, or, perhaps even more broadly, the laws of world creation and world maintenance, since they are intricately tied into mathematical systems—notably the law of three and the law of seven-- in Gurdjieff’s cosmology.

Could it be that the solar plexus is a location from which we can begin to undertake practical, that is, physical, investigations of these laws?

As with the first two centers, the only way to get a footing here is to make an effort towards investment of the attention within the flower of the solar plexus. We may not know quite what that will mean, or what it might bring.

We can know that this type of work is possible.

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The second division

Today we're going to continue to take a look at the allegory contained within Gurdjieff’s “Society of Akhldanns,” but let's start off with a quote from Dogen’s Shobogenzo, taken from the Nishijima and Cross translation, book 3, page 159, in the Chapter “meeting Buddha.”

“Sakyamuni Buddha addresses a great assembly: “if we see both the many forms and their non-form, we at once meet the Tathagata.’”

To see the many forms and to see their non-form, as described now is a liberated bodily experience, and so it is to meet the Tathagata.”

I am offering this quote just to make the point that Dogen understood seeing to be a bodily experience--that is, it arises from the organism itself, and not the organism's psychology. This brings us back to yesterday's point that we are meant to use the direct and immediate sensory abilities of the organic inner tools we are given to understand our life and our experience, not the associative thoughts which we mistakenly believe lead to understanding.

The passages on the Society of Akhldanns highlight the subtle sophistication of Gurdjieff's methodology, where he presented esoteric understandings in an elaborate historical allegory. This is in keeping with a long-standing tradition in both Christianity and Sufism of presenting practical spiritually refined concepts in the form of stories.

Gurdjieff, furthermore, for all his apparent complexity, offered us what may be more accessible information on this subject than we find in the distant, obscure, and flowery language of Dogen's Buddhism. He was, in other words, a man for our times, offering us a work for our times.

...Well, no one said all of this was going to be easy or obvious. We now come to the second division of the society, which in our hypothesized system of allegory is associated with “2”, or, sex center.

"The members of the second section were called 'Akhldann-strassovors,' and this meant that they studied the 'radiations' of all the other planets of their solar system and the reciprocal action of these radiations.”

This passage may well be read and viewed, among other ways, in the context of the formation of an inner solar system. In this context, the other planets are our “other centers.”

In Gurdjieff’s chemical system, sex center is the seat of si 12, which is the highest “hydrogen” or higher substance automatically created by physical processes in man’s body. The passage suggests that sex center has a hitherto unexplored capacity to evaluate the quality of energy within all the other centers. So if we were to explore our overall inner structure from the perspective of the flower at the base of the spine, we might then explore our inner energies from the perspective of the sex center flower.

In my own experience, sex center energy tends to divide itself into two qualities: the obvious biological one, which carries an overwhelming power of its own, and a peculiar intangibility when one attempts to bring it into relationship within the context of the multiplications.

We’ve probably all heard, over the years, a great deal of commentary about what Gurdjieff called “wrong work of sex center,” that is, inappropriate use of the Si 12 energy, which produces a kind of fanaticism. On the other hand, we hear little or nothing about “right work” from this center.

The passage about the society suggests that in a right work, our sex center has an entirely different capacity which we know little or nothing about. That is to say, the energy of our sexuality may have a use in terms of seeing the energy within the other centers.

I have had a number of discussions with a friend, group member, and elder in the work who believes that the proper transubstantiation of sex energy involves its transmutation from our usual erotic impulse into a compassionate one.

When we originally had this exchange earlier this summer, I took the understanding—logically enough--as one applying to external manifestations, but I now wonder whether we should examine the inner question of transubstantiation and compassion.

Do sex center, and sex energy, have anything to do with developing a capacity for evaluation of, and compassion towards, ourselves? It doesn’t seem like an irrational suggestion. One of the first consequences of wrongly formed self image seems to be damage to the function of sex center of one kind or another.

These questions can’t be answered with glib theories. The effort needs to be to immerse ourselves more thoroughly, and more respectfully, within the sex center itself to see what is available there. Only by forming a relationship and “making friends” with it can we begin to form a more complete picture.

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

the first division

After a truly extraordinary fish lunch at a rural mountain lake near Jiande, I’m on the long car ride north to Hangzhou. The sun is an intense orange ball to the west, nestled just above the mountains of Zhejiang province.

About two days ago I promised to get back to examining the question of allegorical meaning of Gurdjieff’s “Society of Akhldanns” as presented in chapter 23 of “Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson.” My intention was to take a more detailed look at each of the divisions of the society in terms of their relationship to a more specific type of inner work.

Gurdjieff tells us:

"The word 'akhldann' then expressed the following concept: 'the striving to become aware of the sense and aim of the being of beings.'”

Put another way, the aim of the society is to become aware of Being. So it was a society formed to study the nature of the self.

It’s not much of a leap to suggest, as I have before, that Gurdjieff was allegorically proposing that we discover, or, if you will, form, such a “society” within ourselves. For indeed, without such an inner society, how can we hope to study the sense and aim of our existence? Furthermore, the “inner society” needs to undertake more specific investigations. And in order to do this it needs to be divided into parts.

In my proposed allegory of the society, the tools we have “ready at hand” are the six separate parts of emotional center, as described in the lecture from the Neighborhood playhouse in New York, January 1923 (the subject of one of last week’s posts, & found in the last chapter of Beelzebub.)

And as described in the allegory, the work they undertake is a work of “objective science.” So is there, perhaps, a new kind of path towards less subjectivity available within us: a path composed of organic tools, rather than psychological ones?

In my earlier post on this subject, I touched on the manner in which the seven divisions of the society actively correspond to the six centers on the enneagram, plus “do,” as the seventh division. Today we will try to examine the "role of the first division" of the Society of Akhldanns in a bit more detail.

Gurdjieff says:

"The members of the first group of the Akhldann Society were called 'Akhldann-fokhsovors,' which meant that they studied the presence of their own planet and the reciprocal action of its separate parts.”

I’ve recently been pondering and examining this first division in relationship to the base of the spine, which represents the originating root of man’s Being. In the yogic system of chakras, it is at the “bottom” of man’s structural nature, but in the far more balanced (and hence egalitarian) structure of the enneagram, we find it occupying numerical position “one.”

If we investigate the energy at the base of the spine, and seek to find a specific relationship to it in the context of a presence within life, we may begin to see that our life itself arises from this point. Within the energy that arises here is contained an immediate potential for connection to all the other points, as the energy within it rises into the body.

If we contact this energy, we may discover an inclusive wholeness that predicts the entire movement of the system. This is because in the lawful progression from “do” to re, the first note, we already find a complete definition of the system of the octave within the doubling of the rate of vibration.

We find it metaphorically, yes, because (presuming we have studied it) we understand the metaphor of the system, but the potential to sense this instinctively within the experience of the energy itself is already there as well. This is the point nearest to the Urquelle, or original spring, from which the water of our life emerges.

...Why? Take a look at the diagram: it’s the closest note to the originating force of “do.” As such it has a life, an impetus, a purity, that becomes increasingly difficult to maintain as the octave develops: in a certain sense, deflection from the original purpose becomes more likely with every successive step in the (first) multiplication of 1,4,2,8,5,7.

And this experience of “one” is not a metaphor for anything. More succinctly, if invested within, it eliminates the metaphors.

The question here is how we can begin to sense the presence of this energy and use it for the study of our inner octave by allowing it to lead us to the study of the reciprocal action of our separate parts—which is all about the law of seven, or, the multiplications. This energy of “one” naturally seeks a lawful relationship to all the other centers in the body.

So- we may ask ourselves, as we live and breathe—

How do we find “one?”

How can we recruit it into service in the study of Being?

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

Monday, October 15, 2007

Six Flowers, one world

This morning in Shanghai, I began my day well before dawn, reading, as I often do, in Nishijima and Cross' translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo; chapter 59, Baike, or, "plum blossoms."

This afternoon I find myself back in beautiful
Hangzhou, on the banks of West Lake. It’s a positively balmy autumn afternoon, boasting scattered clouds, softened golden sunlight, and a paradoxical hint not of winter’s pending exhalation, but the future inward breath of spring.

Dogen often uses the image of plum blossoms to describe the work of the inner centers.
Everything within perception arises from the energy within our centers; as Master Bodhidharma said, "the opening of flowers is the occurrence of the world." Dogen goes on to remark, "A moment in which flowers opening is the occurrence of the world, is spring having arrived. At this moment one flower is present as the opening of five petals. The time of this one flower is able to include three flowers, four flowers, and five flowers, it includes hundreds of flowers, thousands of flowers, myriads of flowers, and kotis of flowers; and it includes countless flowers." (Page 142.)

In undertaking a significant inner study, we must carefully and repeatedly examine the physical conditions within the sensation of the organism. Not the many associative thoughts that flow as an inevitable result of our existence.

The difficulty is that associative thought, which is essentially a mechanical part, can’t be eliminated from the picture. It continuously pollutes incoming impressions by establishing commentary, and thereby usurps the role of real thinking.

Trying to free ourselves of associative thought is futile; it’s going to be there, no matter what we do. The trick is to become less invested in it. And I think we all get much too caught up in the circular analysis of associative thought without even noticing that that is where we are stuck. We live on a merry-go-round of psychological conjecture. Associative thought, since it is the biggest feature in our landscape, attracts the most attention from us, and once we are caught in it, we end up studying it as though it were the only part of ourselves needing attention to.

All such activity is commentary.

We need observation instead of commentary. Facts instead of conjecture. And the facts need to be assembled from within the physical conditions we encounter in an inner sense.

Not the thoughts about them.

In this regard we can speak of the structural parts of emotional center taking in inner impressions.

This is quite different from the effort to be present within the context of impressions entering from outside. These are the two different sets, or classes, of impressions that we need to consider in regard to the question as a whole. (In order to understand this in more detail, it is necessary to read and study the commentary on the nature of the fifth stopinder in Chapter 39 of Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson--"The Holy Planet Purgatory." I am intentionally going to avoid embarking on what would have to be a rather a byzantine technical explanation in this post.)

The inner study of the six flowers is a specific study of vibration arising within centers. There is no need, in this type of study, to assemble cosmologies or apply them. The point, rather, is to develop the sensitivity of the inner sensory tools which receive vibrations and learn more about how they correspond both to each other, and to outer conditions. This is about developing a relationship to a finer kind of inner energy. It is not about analyzing the relationship or explaining the relationship, it is about living within the relationship, investigating the relationship.

We don’t know what we will find here; it is a work in process, a demand that suspends belief, inviting verification in its place. We do need, however, to become invested within the available energy of the body through our work of attention with the six flowers. this is the place where life is beautiful.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2007

From the Bund

This is what the view looked like this afternoon from the Bund in Shanghai.

Dramatic, eh?

You have no idea how dramatic.

The area that you are looking at is called Pudong. 20 years ago, all of this was squat buildings and farmland. No kidding. The people from the Shanghai Artex Corp. took me there in the late 1980s and bragged mightily about how the government was going to develop this land. At the time, all I could see was fields of yellow mustard. I can see them still, in this part of my immediate experience which we call "memory," and they look pretty good to me. I wonder, how much more of nature can we sterilize before it decides to return the favor?

The answer may be closer than we think. If the weather keeps warming, and the ice over Greenland and Antarctica keeps melting, nothing anyone can do will prevent this from being underwater in a few hundred years.

This may sound like idle musing that does not belong in a blog about spirituality, but nothing could be further from the truth. The nature of our Being cannot be separated from the nature of the planet, no matter how many buildings we erect and meadows we pave to contradict that fact. Jeanne DeSalzmann, as it happens, frequently said that we need to work so that "the planet will not go down."

It's true, there is some disagreement within the Work as to exactly what she meant by that, but most of the people I know accept that there is a core of truth there.

For myself, I can say for certain that planetary conditions affect my work. For example, through the years, I know that lunar phases have had a distinct effect on the availability of energy to work with. In addition, there are spring flows and fall flows of planetary energy that make it much more possible to work. Gurdjieff alluded to the distinct influence that solar and planetary influences have on our availability for work in his concept of "solioonensius," the period when emanations from the sun accelerate the possibilities for the beings which work under its influence.

For that matter, the entire discussion of so called "astral" influences is simply a discussion of planetary influences, that is to say, influences from the level directly above us. Astral entities are entities which have crystallized on the level of the planet, i.e., they have become a part of the planet and will probably last as long as it does. You can find numerous oblique and even direct references to such entities in Castaneda's work, and it is a simple matter of fact that you cannot engage in the Gurdjieff work unless you are willing to sign on to the idea that we are in the Work in order to create an astral body.

I have observed, over the years, a good deal of beating around the bush by people who don't seem to want to look this one right in the eyeball. One can, I suppose, engage in the Work without signing onto the concept, but by the time you throw the idea away, so much bathwater goes out that it's rather difficult to avoid including the baby in it.

Encounters with angels are encounters with astral entities. Beings on this scale are terrifying to us; read the Bible, you'll notice that the immediate reaction every human being has to an angel is fear. Astral entities are aliens to us, and contact with one of them is an incredible shock. If you are looking for a phenomenon that will truly rock your world, try this one on for size... presuming, of course, you are able to attract attention on that level.

You may not want to. The choice as to whether or not your life may truly change will no longer be up to you at that point.

Well, most of us appear to prefer to avoid discussing these things. One man I know who I consider a good friend and a person who is, objectively, very intensely involved in his personal inner work feels we should never discuss these things.

There is a neat irony there; he's a poet -- quite a good one as it happens -- and his fellow artist Rilke certainly discussed them.

The summary point of this post is that we are not separated from nature. We are not separated from the planet. We are all a part of this enterprise. The fact that the species is treating the planet as though it were a disposable diaper extends from the external circumstances all the way into the depth of our Being itself. We must deepen the organic roots that connect us to the planet if we want to know anything real about the nature of our own being.

The beauty of the work we do is that it does deepen these roots. It is in the discovery of the depth of sensation within the cells themselves that we uncover the pulse that connects us to the planet.

As we continue to travel across the surface of this planet together, brothers and sisters,

individually and collectively, within this moment, and within the next moment,

--and within all the moments that we have together before we have used up all our allocated moment--

May each of us deepen the roots of the mind that extend into the body so that we may become more whole, discover more compassion,

and open the heart.

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

Saturday, October 13, 2007

From “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, G.I. Gurdjieff, Arkana edition, page 1090:

“And the fourth personality, which should also be a distinct part of the whole individual, is none other than the manifestation of the totality of the results of the already automatized functioning of the three enumerated personalities separately formed in him and independently educated, that is to say, it is that part of a being which is called "I."

In regard to the passage this quote comes from—“this week’s passage,” as it were--I’ve been attempting to work on three areas of practical observation within life this week.

One thing is to observe the individual perceptions that enter within ordinary conditions of life and relate them directly, within immediate experience (avoiding, if possible, analysis) to the work of the three major centers. I try to approach this using a sense of organic immediacy, intelligent intuition, and empathic instinct, not association.

The second thing is, within that work, to attend to and feed the specific sensations within the inner flowers during daily activity.

The third is to see if, and how, the experience of the perception within the various centers knits itself into a single whole, that is--where and how does “I,” the experience of self, arise?

I’m getting a bit more interested in this in specific relationship to in the work of the inner sensory parts, as related in the allegory of the society of Akhldanns.

More on that in the future.

Today—just a few minutes ago, in fact—I was standing on the deck of a ferry between Nantong and Shanghai, smelling the brackish, muddy bay water, sensing my skin as the occasional fat drop of rain spattered down from dormant, lead-grey skies. Inhaling the acrid, sweat-sweet smell of diesel oil. Water spilled off the edge of the ferry in sinuous foaming brown swirls, every bubble a rounded, effervescent gem, conveying the impression of countless temporary eternities in motion. Freighters and barges spilled off the starboard bow by the hundreds; cities on water.

Planets, machines, fuel, weather:


The moment reminded me powerfully of several other moments in my existence on this planet:

A ferry to from Denmark to Norway when I was 12, watching the golden scales of the sun gleam off the boat’s wake from the porthole of my cabin, feeling like that particular moment was all there ever was, all there ever could be, and that all of the gold in the world, if there was any gold at all, was contained in those waves.

Another moment in Albufeira, on the coast of the Algarve in Portugal, at 13, watching azure Mediterranean waves foam and swirl against the fossil-saturated rocks and cliffs. Realizing that this had gone on…more or less, forever… and how temporary I was. Wanting to scry the ultimate nature of life, to pluck some absolute, yet completely intagible, plum of truth from within that timeless moment of time.

What are we?

The two months I spent working on an oil tanker on the Rhine in the summer of 1972, between my junior and senior year in high school. A land seemingly stained forever by the memory of war; you can still taste it in the air today, a coal-black worm of sin that seams the underbelly of the land with darkness. The bleak loneliness of a German summer sky: cool, slate blue clouds and rain. Neat, manicured rows of plenty: vineyards marching across the shattered, stony uplifts of the Rhineland.

And always, always, the river keeps sliding by: undeterred, unforgiving, and relentless in its rush to the sea.

The uninvited past inserts itself into today’s experiences and colors the picture until it seems as though this moment is a summary of my whole life. I breathe: I stand, my hands resting on the coolness of the bulwark; I remember.

I remember where I am, and ponder the questions of world creation and world maintenance.

I am of this world.

This is a water planet; we live in a universe of temperature, where the liquidity of movement is only determined by degree, and every substance moves from frozen solid, to liquid, to gas as the energies around it affect it.

Where do I stand in this line of time and space? How does this single dew drop of life, as Dogen might call it, compare to the blue ocean from whence it comes?

Seeking self, seeking I, within this state, I see that the very allure of a hypothesis alone already creates the temptation to explain, and we are in many ways unable to explain. It is unnecessary to explain. It is much more necessary to be than to explain, and yet paradoxically, everything—from everyone--morphs into an explanation. Even those who profess to practice silence explain within the very act of their profession.

…Man cannot do. But should he do?

What does “Thy will be done” mean?

Being, as the quote at the beginning of today’s post points out, is a distinct state that arises from within the concerted activity of the three major centers: moving, emotional, thinking. I emphasize the word distinct because I am not sure we are aware of the distinction. For us, being too often arises from a single center, a one-pointed perception of life. We’re not connected to the ship: the propellers, the churning engines, the rudders of our life.

We’re just catching a burnt whiff of spent diesel oil and calling it awareness.

If there is anything we should do, it is perceive: insert ourselves within this life, rising up from the root of our being, accepting and incorporating the sum total of where we have come from, all the results that the merciless heropass (time) has installed and instilled within us.

Then to live from within, as wholly as possible, knitting the tangled yarns of our experience into a single fabric. To avoid the temptation of creating the story, and discover the art of just being the story.

The art of life is never in the making, but always in the seeing.

May your trees bear fruit, and your waters yield movement.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Daily bread, and the four personalities of man

Here I am again, in the business class lounge of Korean Airlines international Airport in Seoul. Posting a blog entry from this location has become almost a tradition; a peculiar one, to be sure, but we have to take traditions as they come.

Due to the miraculous capabilities of VOIP, I just spent 20 minutes talking to my wife, mostly about questions raised by the passage from the last chapter in "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" which I cited in my posting two days ago.

When we speak of what is referred to as "daily bread" in the Lord's prayer, we might consider it from four separate points of view, every one of which corresponds to a particular personality of man. A man takes in many kinds of food every day. He ought to become more aware of each kind of food, and have a respect for it that leads him to seek it in an appropriate manner and at an appropriate time.

The first type of food is the food that feeds the organism (the "third personality" mentioned in the lecture.) This is the food that we chew and eat, the chemical substances that are transubstantiated within us to construct this organism we inhabit.

Let's pause for a minute right now to sense ourself and consider that this entire thing we call a body arises as if from nothingness from the countless trillions of atomic and molecular elements that we ingest over the course of a lifetime. I did this the other night, lying on my bed, and was for a moment completely astonished.

This ongoing creation of the body is an act of magic, born of energies we do not understand and mediated by forces that are cosmological in nature. Our presumption that our body (or anything else, for that matter) "belongs" to us seems absurd in the face of this mystery, doesn't it?

The second kind of food which we discussed two days ago is the food contained within air, which contains much subtler substances than we generally sense or get involved with.

The third kind of food is the overall food of impressions, the totality of sensory impressions that are received from all of the organic tools designed to receive them.

These are the only three specific foods that Gurdjieff mentions. I think, however, that we might conceive of the totality of the experience of life as a fourth food. Admittedly, this is hardly doctrinaire, and may be stretching it. Nonetheless, when we consider the blending of the three foods within us, they are supposed to form a fourth totality, the fourth personality, the real "I" or or real mind of man. The formation of that "I" or Being is supposed, ultimately, to feed our Work, which in its overall aim and effect needs to be be greater than just the act of Being itself.

It's quite important for us to try and give ourselves a little special food in every area in each day. For example, we might want to eat something that we take particular pleasure in -- just a little bit of it -- and pay a precise attention to that pleasure with a real sensation of gratitude. My original teacher and group leader gave me that task when we were first working together, at the time when I was first getting sober. It is only now, 25 years later, that I appreciate how subtle this very simple task is.

The second thing we can do is pay specific attention to the breath in the manner that was discussed two days ago. This practice can be extended to a much broader set of exercises which I have not published. Realistically speaking, most of it can only be offered in person.

The third thing we can do is try to discover the fundamental organic reservoir of gratitude within us, and receive all the other impressions of our life from the point of view of acceptance and openness, invested as deeply as possible within the practice of what Gurdjieff called "outer considering," which in other practices is called compassion.

And the fourth task that we can give ourselves in feeding ourselves is to meet these three foods within our life, pondering the meaning of their blending, and seeking to understand what the wholeness of life is as all three of these foods support us in our effort.

So when we say, in the Lord's prayer, "give us this day our daily bread," we are actually asking for support in the undertaking of the task that has the deepest roots, the strongest trunk, the broadest canopy within life. It is no one small thing, even though it is always composed of the small things.

In fact, it is everything.

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Lamb of God

In Christianity, we have the saying, "the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world."

Of course this phrase refers to Christ.

It also seems to me to imply a certain emotional quality that we can acquire in an inner sense. This quality offers us a purity of motive and a lack of presumption in the way in which we meet life. But it is a tangible physical quality, not just an attitude or a set of ideas. It is a softening of the experience of the entire inner and outer state.

I am bringing this question of psychology up again because I am almost finished reading Trungpa's "cutting through spiritual materialism." I think the book is a terrific piece of work, but once again, like many other teachings we can read about, in the end it comes across as a set of ideas, not physical practices. And I am quite certain that we can cram ourselves utterly full of ideas without really much of anything changing, except our ideas about things.

Where is the physical practice?

The actual inner state needs to change, and this can only be accomplished through effort with attention within life. Just doing it in meditation will never be enough. We have to be willing to meet ordinary life with a tangible quality of being that is softer and more receptive, a quality that does not reject our life so readily. Above all it is the blood of the lamb that takes away sin. One hears talk of being washed in the blood of the Lamb; a powerful image, difficult to understand.

My own take on it today is as follows:

What cleanses us of our identification, our attachment, is to be immersed and bathed in the most essential part of our lives, in this sacred, coursing, energetic power of our very identity itself. We must become alive within the blood.

This brings me back to the idea of intentional suffering, which I have pondered for many years. This idea of intentional suffering was the second of the two intentional efforts of Being that Gurdjieff said we need to make in order to prepare ourselves for what he termed the second conscious shock.

I don't think that Gurdjieff's literature offers any specific instruction on exactly what this means, aside from the idea that it consists of not expressing negative emotion. Personally I think there are practices much deeper than that implied here, ones that cannot be touched with the tongue so easily--and that is exactly what we need to do, acquire their taste.

In considering the idea from the point of view of today's physical and emotional state -- intellectually, I seem to be more passive today--I find intentional suffering consists of allowing life's energy to enter me. This is a tricky thing; what does that mean, to let life's energy enter me?

As I go through my day, I see that there is constant resistance to accepting the condition of the body, the condition of the emotional reaction. The resistance often consists of a lack of will to bring myself to where I am. Jeanne DeSalzmann frequently spoke of this particular question; it is peppered throughout the personal documents she left, as well as the records of her talks. As she put it, we don't want to be here. We don't want to allow life to enter us. It is actually rather difficult work, and we are essentially lazy in this regard. It's much easier to fall back on our habits and coast.

To be bathed in the blood of the Lamb, to be fully immersed within life, invested within the self within life, would be a big thing.

We need help with that. The connection that Gurdjieff proposed we establish with our emotional being was a step in the direction of awakening ourselves to our Master's voice, so that we can hear His instruction and began to live again in a direction that is born in gratitude and thirsts for Grace.

The next post , Insh'allah, will be another in my series of postings from the business class lounge at the airport in Seoul. Cannot absolutely guarantee it, but I will do my best.

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

Monday, October 8, 2007

The development of emotional center

Today we are going to take a look at a very specific concept, and a very specific understanding of inner work. The results may surprise you.

So, lets take a look.
As Gurdjieff told Ouspensky, nothing can really happen until emotional center begins to participate in our work. (see the final quote of today's post for the exact reference.)

What's that all about?

In order to understand this particular question better, the reader would be well advised to re-read Chapter 9 of "In Search of the Miraculous" by P.D. Ouspensky, and the last chapter of Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson," by G. I Gurdjieff. I am only going to offer a few salient quotes from these two books to make the point, which has been hiding in plain sight for many years.

Let's begin with Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson. We're going to examine a statement about the nature of man's emotional being from page 1090, Viking edition:

"The second of the four personalities, functioning in most cases entirely independently of the first, is the sum of the results of data deposited and fixed in the common presence of every man, as of every animal, through the six organs called "receivers of vibrations of different qualities"--organs that function in accordance with the new impressions perceived, and whose sensitivity depends upon heredity and upon the conditions of the preparatory formation for responsible existence of the given individual.

Any close reading of the context of the passage this is taken from will leave very little doubt that Gurdjieff refers here to man's emotional architecture.

Let us draw two nearly inevitable inferences from this passage:

1. the structure of man's emotional being consists of six specific organs, or centers.

2. the organs receive vibrations of different qualities from the impressions that are perceived.

These six specific "organs" are the six inner flowers which I have referred to on many occasions in this blog.

Now, let's take another quote, this time from P.D. Ouspensky's "In Search of the Miraculous," chapter 9, pages 188-189 (Paul H. Crompton hardcover edition, 2004):

"La 6 is the highest matter produced by the organism from air, that is, from the second kind of food. This however is obtained only by making a conscious effort at the moment an impression is received.

“It is necessary to understand what this means. We all breathe the same air. Apart from the elements known to our science the air contains a great number of substances unknown to science, indefinable for it and inaccessible to its observation. But exact analysis is possible both of the air inhaled and of the air exhaled. This exact analysis shows that although the air inhaled by different people is exactly the same, the air exhaled is quite different. Let us suppose that the air we breathe is composed of twenty different elements unknown to our science. A certain number of these elements are absorbed by every man when he breathes. Let us suppose that five of these elements are always absorbed. Consequently the air exhaled by every man is composed of fifteen elements; five of them have gone to feeding the organism. But some people exhale not fifteen but only ten elements, that is to say, they absorb five elements more. These five elements are higher ‘hydrogens.’ These higher ‘hydrogens’ are present in every small particle of air we inhale. By inhaling air we introduce these higher ‘hydrogens’ into ourselves, but if our organism does not know how to extract them out of the particles of air, and retain them, they are exhaled back into the air. In this way we all breathe the same air but we extract different substances from it. Some extract more, others less."

Gurdjieff called "conscious labor" the act of bringing the attention to the point where impressions enter the body.

This statement cannot be properly understood from a literal point of view. Instead, we should ask ourselves, "where, exactly, do impressions enter the body?

Impressions do not enter the body through the eyes, skin, nose, or years. Those organs are simply collecting tools.

Gurdjieff, God bless him, made it abundantly clear in the last chapter of Beelzebub.

The vessels that collect the impressions are the six parts of the emotional being.

And they collect the higher hydrogens they need from the air.

What this all means is simple enough: in the act of conscious labor, the attention needs to be brought to the correct specific locations within the body as we breathe in and out. There are six of these locations, corresponding exactly to the system of centers expounded in the Enneagram.

There needs to be a very specific, precise understanding of the six inner locations, and the corresponding experience of what it is to have a direct attention within one of these locations. Active inner study consists of a very intimate effort to support the work of these parts. And above all, this work is not just to be undertaken in meditation, although that is the place where it is initially easiest to find it and to begin to understand it.

The whole point of work in life is to have an attention within the centers and to help them receive vibrations, or, higher hydrogens, from the air while we participate in daily, ordinary life. not only that, we are meant to study their function and purpose as we support them with our attention. If you return to the post on the allegorical meaning contained within Gurdjieff's Society of Akhldanns, you will see that he actually told us how each of the six inner flowers functions, that is, the types of impressions it is meant to receive.

So, breathing in, with a supportive attention precisely held at a certain point within the body, we attempt to be in relationship to our life, to the incoming impressions of our life, to the experience of our body, and to the vibration within that specific location that arises as we perceive these elements of Being with attention.

There is no need for the manipulation of breathing whatsoever. The whole point is in the attention. This is the manner in which we feed the emotional center with the substances it needs for our own development.

Again, nothing can happen in real Work until emotion begins to participate... and, as promised before, here's what Gurdjieff said about the matter on page 235 of the Crompton edition of Miraculous.

"Small accumulators suffice for the ordinary, everyday work of life. But for work on oneself, for inner growth, and for the efforts which are required of a man who enters the way, the energy from these small accumulators is not enough.

We must learn how to draw energy straight from the large accumulator.

This however is possible only with the help of the emotional center. It is essential that this be understood. The connection with the large accumulator can be effected only through the emotional center. The instinctive, moving, and intellectual centers, by themselves, can feed only on the small accumulators.

This is precisely what people do not understand. Therefore their aim must be the development of the activity of the emotional center. The emotional center is an apparatus much more subtle than the intellectual center, particularly if we take into consideration the fact that in the whole of the intellectual center the only part that works is the formatory apparatus and that many things are quite inaccessible to the intellectual center. If anyone desires to know and to understand more than he actually knows and understands, he must remember that this new knowledge and this new understanding will come through the emotional center and not through the intellectual center."

So there you are. Now you know something much more specific about the physical nature of the work that is necessary for the development of emotional center... something you may not have been told before.

I will be travelling to China starting Wednesday. Hopefully I will be able to share some rich new impressions during the next few weeks.

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

Sunday, October 7, 2007

rebecca is home

my daughter is home fom college. Whoa! We're pretty busy here!

I hope to get the "substantial" new post up tomorrow.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

take heart, and take flight

When we begin to inhabit our life more fully, through the heart, something within us takes flight.

What is it? Forms and systems cannot contain it or define it. Words cannot capture it, coming and going cannot locate it.

This thing we call life is precious. As Dogen pointed out, the human body we inhabit is a rare thing, difficult to obtain. When we live within it in appreciation, in gratitude, in reverence, what is not possible?

Sorry to be so brief today. I promise you all a much more substantial essay within the next few days.

with love,


Friday, October 5, 2007

Fear. Gratitude.

This morning, Neal and I were walking the famous dog Isabel and got onto the subject of fear.

It's really quite astonishing how much in life comes from fear. Fear poses as a thousand other things, but if you look at the root of most of our rejection of situations, people, and conditions, you'll find fear. We are always trying to control things, always trying to protect everything, always trying to be safe. This type of action can appear incredibly rational and pragmatic, thus disguising itself as objectivity.

We are afraid of things being new. We are afraid of change. And above all, we do fear fear itself, so we do everything we can to avoid having fear. Paradoxically speaking, our fear of fear leaves us in exactly the place that we fear the most. It's as though we were on a treadmill from which there was no escape.

So we end up looking for liberation, liberation from this treadmill of fear. And liberation sounds like the elimination of fear -- getting rid of it, so that there is no fear left.

But this is not possible. Do we really think we can make a whole tree by lopping off the branches? If we trim the tree, yes, we still have a tree, a tree that suits us more, but it is not the tree in its natural state. And it is above all the natural state of the tree that we want to study. Biologists studying animals and plants always try to study them in their natural environment without interfering with them. In fact, it is understood that any study that is contaminated with interference does not reflect an accurate picture of the animal or plant's true nature.

The self observation that Gurdjieff calls us to practice is a study of the whole tree. We have to resist the temptation to trim branches so that the tree suits us. We just have to see the branches. Many of those branches are going to include fear; there they are.

In a greater state of self-awareness, we see that we are fearful, even as we feel the fearfulness with our emotions. We sense the fearfulness with our body. We know the fearfulness with our intelligence. Nonetheless, we give ourselves permission to go forward through the fearfulness and experience it. We do not let it stop us; we include it within the fact that we are here, we exist, and we must act.

This week, I was watching Ken Burns' new series "The War." Some people have called this stunning and very intimate, personal picture of the second world war "boring." I suppose I can see why they would feel that way; we want war to be exciting and dangerous and impersonal, the way it always looks on television and in the movies. It is much more threatening for it to be intimate and dangerous and personal, isn't it? Once you strip away the bombast and are left just hearing from the the people and looking at the corpses, the whole thing doesn't taste so good anymore.

The reason I am bringing this up is because men who go through war repeatedly come back and report an experience that was much more compelling and intense than anything they ever experienced afterwards. This is, more than likely, because they experienced a heightened state of self awareness that included their fear in a three centered manner forced upon them by the intensity of the circumstances. They discovered that they had to accept the conditions, and the ones that survived went forward, including their fear.

To go forward including one's fear, even in ordinary life, is a big thing. I have had to do this in number of times, and even when it was clear that the circumstances could not physically harm me or lead to my death, it was terrifying.

I usually have to confront this type of moment in smaller instances: for example, when I sit in a group and speak, because it is usually quite difficult for me to speak at first. I always find that there is a fear in me of exposing myself. When I was young, I understood this as shyness; of course, people would not tell you I was shy today--I seem to be loud and obnoxious to a lot of people, probably, and in moments of more presence it's fair said I am anything but shy-- but they don't know how much effort has gone into being as I am now.

The fact is that I am, like most of us, still afraid of the world. I cannot get rid of those parts of me: the parts that are afraid of being alone, afraid of the dark, afraid of confrontation (which I paradoxically initiate whenever it seems necessary) and afraid of just meeting an ordinary moment like looking at my bank account or opening up e-mail.

I think if we begin to examine ourselves very, very closely, very precisely, we discover that there is a truly incredible amount of fear at work within us. We are never going to get rid of an animal this large. Instead, we need to study it carefully and include it in our ecosystem, our biosphere.

There is a flip side to this fear. Hidden deep within us lie mountain streams filled with the clear, fresh water of joy and gratitude. If we are willing to work from within our fears, rather than attempt to dismiss them, eventually we will find those streams and drink that water.

There is nothing sweeter.

May your trees bear fruit, and not have their branches lopped off.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dharma, set theory, peace

I am a little off my game. There is a bit of a minor infection in me of some kind, and it is taking a great deal of my inner energy just to fight it off. I'm not actually sick, but I can really sense the drain on my resources to work against whatever virus is active.

This takes away from what I have available for my inner work, and it reminds me powerfully of the fact that our resources are limited.

We often see failure to work, failure to rise to the spiritual occasion or the moment, as a deficiency. This is a kind of negative thinking; when we do this, we think we are bad, or not trying hard enough, or inadequate in one way or another. Quite probably nothing could be further from the truth. What is happening here is that we do not have the resources at that moment. It is not a matter of deficiency, but of the realistic limitations. The chemistry of the human body can produce only just so much in a given day to support our work.

Thinking negatively about ourselves and criticizing ourselves for the failure to be awake, to be present, is just a form of self-destruction. We are not going to enhance our experience of self if we chip away at it like this.

This morning I was reading chapter 54 of the Shobogenzo, "Hossho"- The Dharma Nature. In it, Dogen deals with the nature of the universe from the viewpoint of Buddhism. One of the things that strikes me about his world view is that the Dharma, that is, reality, or truth, completely encloses and expresses everything. There is no escape from the Dharma; even escape from the Dharma is not escaping.

As I read through this chapter, it struck me that many of the statements that Dogen makes, in which concepts are nested within concepts, turned around upon themselves, and re-nested, are a bit reminiscent of set theory. In expounding cosmology, Dogen expounds relationships and scales.

Let's take an example.

Allow us, for the sake of argument to assume that some things are "good" and other things are "evil." (Yes, I know, this introduces a theoretically unacceptable dualism, but just bear with me.) Within the universe, the set of things that are "good," or, if you will, evolutionary, is infinite. The set of things that are "evil" or involutionary, is also infinite.

We can agree that both the "good" and the "evil" things are true: that is, they exist, regardless of our value judgment about them. This means that the infinite set of things that are "good" and the infinite set of things that are "evil" are part of a larger infinite set of things that are "True."

Thus we demonstrate that the infinite set of Truth is larger than the infinite sets of "good" and "evil."

Truth is a larger infinity. Neat, huh? ...If it appears to you to be no more than an annoying form of sophistry, go complain to the mathematicians. They're the ones who thought this kind of thinking up in the first place.

This weird little thought experiment of "smaller" and "larger" infinities also demonstrates (for stupid 'ol amateur philostopher me, at least) that value judgment automatically diminishes the scale of perception.

Worth pondering, I think.

Yes, Dogen's work is quite difficult, but if one reads it with this idea of set theory in mind, one perhaps begins to see, at least a bit, how he nests sets of ideas within one another as he compares them.

It is really quite beautiful. Sometimes it reminds me of the opening of a flower, where the petals slowly unfold to reveal more and more detail, yet nonetheless always retaining their essential characteristic of being a flower. Every petal of that flower contains its own Truth, yet the set of all petals creates a larger truth called "flower."

Because the essential structure is fractal in nature -- that is to say, every single element is a reflection of the entire system -- the whole universe is contained within each manifestation, no matter how small. Dogen's cosmology accounts for this in asserting the ubiquity and invulnerability of the Dharma.

Once again, this is not so different from Gurdjieff. He himself said that men divide things up with their minds when all they ought to perceive is one single thing. His term for God -- "His Uni-Being Endlessness--" seems to me to neatly cover Dogen's essential concept of the Dharma.

Both of these masters asked us to make efforts to expand our awareness to a point where this is less of a theory, and more of a direct experience we can participate in. And both of them, in their own way, repeatedly call us back to a sense of the physical experience of life as it enters us as the vehicle towards a more unified Being.

Somewhere along the line I picked up a subscription to Shambala magazine, which I like, although it is heavily polluted with a gargantuan pile of spiritual sales pitches. Dharma for sale... tuppence a bag... but, in all fairness, the ads keep the magazine alive, so why should I complain?

Anyway, Pema Chödrön has a very nice and heartfelt article in this month's issue about peace, and the role of Buddhist theory and thinking in the effort to establish a more significant direction of inner peace within the conditions we inhabit. It starts out with a rundown of what Nicoll would have called "keeping accounts" and deftly analyzes a good deal of the psychology that drives both inner and outer conflict. It wraps up by offering some truly practical techniques I have used myself. And it's refreshingly frank about what might be identified as an inherent weakness--the belief system of karmic debt, without which Buddhism might not be Buddhism. ...Weakness, I say, because perhaps it leans a bit too directly on form in pursuit of its aim.

I rather liked the article. At the same time, what seems to me to be missing from this otherwise very good piece on life practice is the understanding of three-centered work (See yesterday's post.) Perhaps it's not fair of me to ask this of the Buddhists--after all, one can hardly argue that the concept (at least in those terms) is a central, or even peripheral, tenet of Buddhist practice per se-- but I can't help but feel, reading Dogen, that somehow that questions does happen to be at the secret heart of all Buddhist effort--

as well as that of the Jews, Muslims, Christians, and, last but never least, Hindus.

If we learn to work within three centers, we slowly begin to lean more on Being and less on form.

This brings a living quality to the pursuit of inner, and outer, peace that does not need to rely on any conventional religious explanations. Instead, it relies on the direct experience of the moment.

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