Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Being, dwelling in life

Another quote from Dogen's Shobogenzo, Nishijima and cross translation, book 3, p. 223:

"In conclusion, to go deep into the mountains to consider the Buddha's truth may be easy, [but] to build stupas and to build Buddhas is very difficult."

I picked this quote specifically because of its reference to building things. I am on this tack because, last night, as I was sitting in my group, towards the end of the exchange an observation occurred to me.

The question that was active in me at the time was the question of inhabiting my life. Those of you more familiar with the postings in this blog have heard this expression from me before. We need to learn to inhabit our lives more fully. That is to say, we need to be more invested in our lives, more fully clothed in the act of living. That is an effort that needs to be made through the connection between mind and body and not just the mind alone.

In connection to this idea, it struck me that we all usually see it from this perspective:

Being constructs life.

Being, the whole experience of our existence itself, is essentially seen as a tool that is used by us to construct a livelihood, a family, a set of relationships with other people, and the many material things that surround us.

In presuming this, we make the very mistake that Gurdjieff warned us about, because man cannot "do," and yet the entire act of believing that we use Being to construct life is nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt to do.

We think we are building stupas and building Buddhas. We all labor, like Tolstoy's characters in War and Peace, under the illusion that our Being is constantly constructing our life, under the illusion that what we do is what causes events to happen and circumstances to arise. If we are looking for a locus to our egoism, it lies here.

Last night, in my pondering, I considered the alternative, which involves an inversion of perspective.

Being dwells within life.

Life does not need to be constructed by us; it arrives on our doorstep already in existence. This immediate truth is the immediate truth that Dogen keeps referring us back to. We dwell within this condition called life which is, for all intents and purposes, pre-existing: it needs no construction. Our idea that we are somehow making our life as we go along is, as Solomon claimed in Ecclesiastes, sheer vanity, but the idea is so powerful that it has us completely hypnotized, to the last man. It's only when something truly unexpected (and often horrible) happens that we see that our idea we were controlling everything was truly foolish and stupid. As the man said, "to build stupas and to build Buddhas is very difficult."

Nicholas Taleb discusses this in somewhat different terms in his book "The Black Swan," where he points out that we simply don't know what will happen, and routinely forecast events (circumstances, lifetimes) even though our margin of potential error in what he calls "Extremistan" is close to 100% at all times.

So the question for us when we confront the question of what it means to Be becomes a question of what it means to dwell within our life, to inhabit our life, to wear the clothing of our life, which is already cut and sewn up for us by forces much greater than us.

Our job is to learn how to live within the inherent uncertainty of, well,


This all leads us back to the idea that we need to become much more receptive to our life, to be informed by it. That is, to allow life to form us inwardly by receiving it with discrimination instead of resistance. To live within the conditions, not judgmentally, not passively, but interactively.

And that thought leads me to another subject I pondered last night, which is the ubiquitous presence of fear, which--although i am still pondering this-- probably arises organically simply because of the inherent uncertainty of everything.

Some parts of the organism just don't want to tolerate this fact.

I think, however, that we have pondered this enough for one day. I'm afraid we will have to talk about fear tomorrow, or--at any event--

sometime in that definitely uncertain future.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water, within organically acceptable margins of error.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your posts and your wise words. You have no idea how it helps me. I belong to the Gurd.-Group of Bogotá Colombia. Excuse for my bad English.


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