Friday, November 23, 2007

The four abodes of Mindfulness

Today we're back to Dogen's Shobogenzo for additional fascinating parallels to understandings from the Gurdjieff work and other practices.

Today, as always, quotes are taken from Nishijima and Cross's translation as published by Dogen Sangha Press, 1999. Today's passages are from chapter 73, book 4, pgs 1-3, "Thirty-Seven Elements of Bodhi."

Dogen describes the four abodes of mindfulness as follows:

"The first is the reflection that the body is not pure. The second is the reflection that feeling is suffering. The third is the reflection that mind is without constancy. The fourth is the reflection that dharmas are without self."

Dogen speaks of body, feeling, and mind. The parallels to Gurdjieff are undeniable: Dogen is describing mindfulness as a three centered activity.

Notice, furthermore, that Dogen refers to the practices of mindfulness as abodes: that is, places of residence. He is advising us that the practice of mindfulness consists of inhabitation. I have tried to make this point many times. Dogen is smarter than me; he only needs to say it once.

Let's take a look at what he means by each of these abodes of mindfulness.

For Dogen, sitting zazen is the absolute foundation of mindful practice. So we are introduced here to the idea of a three centered practice in sitting.

We begin this effort to open ourselves by sitting in order to fully experience, in a three centered manner, the concepts that Dogen speaks about, to experience them not just with our mind as ideas, but with all of our parts, so that they saturate our body, penetrate our gut, and lift our thinking above the merry-go-round of association.

The first is the reflection that the body is not pure.

We find this idea in every major religion. In Hinduism and in yoga, we consistently encounter the idea that the body must be purified in order for higher energy to enter and act. In Christianity, man is seen as being born into original sin, that is, a state of impurity which must be cleansed by the Holy Spirit in order for men to receive God. In Islam, man's ordinary state must be purified by the burning power of God's love.

In his typical maverick manner, Gurdjieff described all this somewhat differently, by saying that men must see and sense their own nothingness. He also alluded to the fact that we must acquire an organic sense of shame.

Jeanne de Salzmann referred to it a bit differently; in her language, we needed to stay in front of our lack.

All of these statements are ways of issuing an invitation to participate in a process that is essentially wordless; as such, every description falls short.

This practice, in sitting, is to open the body to allow an energy that enters to show us how small we are, and how far short we fall.

We see where we are.
This is an organic experience that can be sought in sitting within the practice of connecting the centers. If it touches us, it is objective, not judgmental.

Dogen creates a beautiful allegory in this chapter by describing the way of purification as the method of washing a robe in water. This robe --the Kasaya, the sacred vestment of Buddhism--is the life which we inhabit.

Please read this very beautiful passage, if you can find a copy of the book, which has become rather scarce.

The second practice is the reflection that feeling is suffering.

Emotion consists of allowing. This is a new concept for us, because almost all of our emotional experience consists of reacting, that is, rejecting.

This emotional practice of rejection needs to be turned on its head in both an inner and outer sense.

During sitting, once again, we seek to open the centers to receive something higher. This force is the Holy Spirit-- nothing other than pure, unadulterated Love. If we suffer this Love to come unto us, it melts us in such a way that we truly understand what we are--in a way that no words can ever touch.

The esoteric meanings of the Enneagram and work with the six inner flowers are directly connected with this effort.

The third practice is the reflection that mind is without constancy.

We discussed this the other day in the context of turning, or associative, thought, and we have discussed it in some earlier posts over the past two weeks regarding non-attachment to thought. The essential form of this practice within sitting is to allow the mind to exist without being invested in it. As thoughts continually and inevitably arise, exist, and depart, we retain separation from them. Rather than adopting a pejorative attitude towards our habits and our mechanical nature, we exercise instead an intentional objectivity with regard to their existence.

Furthermore we begin to see that all the manifestations of what we call "mind" are temporary. "Mind" as we usually experience it is like the weather; it changes according to the temperature and pressure of life, and the energy available within the system that drives it.

Being as we seek to experience it is something apart from mind as we currently experience it. A three-centered practice in sitting can help us to become more available to this understanding.

The fourth abode of mindfulness is the reflection that dharmas are without self.

This is exactly what is contained within the statement "There is no "I", there is only truth," the first half of the teaching which concludes with "the way to the truth is through the heart."

As usual, it gets better...

Dogen immediately follows the description of the four abodes of mindfulness with a description of The Four Kinds of Right Restraint. (also called the four kinds of right exertion.)

"The first is to prevent bad that has not yet occurred. The second is caused to be extinguished bad that has already occurred. The third is to cause to occur good that has not yet occurred. The fourth is to promote the good that has already occurred."

Let us compare this to Gurdjieff's famous aphorism on right exertion:

"Use the present to repair the past and prepare the future."

Once again, we discover the deep roots, extending through time and space itself, that connect Dogen's Buddhism to Gurdjieff's Fourth Way.

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

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