Monday, December 3, 2007

Sutras as impressions

Apologies. I had multiple problems with blogger this afternoon at lunch and the original version of this post had many errors. I hope most of them have now been corrected.

We return once again to a discussion of Dogen's ideas and their relationship to the Gurdjieff work. This time, in book 4 of the Shobogenzo (translated by Nishijima and Cross, Dogen Sangha Press), page 27, chapter 75: Samadhi as Experience of the Self.

Here Dogen intimates that the state of enlightenment is a state of self-knowledge. We come once again to the idea that it is the inhabitation of our lives, the experience of our consciousness in an active sense, that creates the possibility of what the Buddhists call enlightenment.

In this chapter, on page 28, Dogen launches into a discussion on the meaning of the word "sutras." Sutras-- truths, or teachings-- are usually taken to mean the traditional set of Buddhist texts, but of course Dogen--irascible here, as always-- is never satisfied with the limitations imposed by traditionalist dogma.

To him, everything is a sutra.

That is to say all of nature, the entire universe, is a teaching. There is a singleness of truth expressed within all that is, and this is the teaching. This is why we can learn everything we need to know from even one aspect of nature if we understand it properly.

Let's take a look at what Dogen says in this chapter:

"In general, when we follow and practice the sutras, the sutras truly come forth. The meaning of "the sutras" is the whole universe in ten directions, mountains, rivers, and the earth, grass and trees, self and others; it is eating meals and putting on clothes, instantaneous movements and demeanors."

In other words, the entire experience of life is a sutra. The teaching is not words: it is reality itself, contained within all that arises and all that is. Everything is an expression of the Dharma. Words themselves are part of the Dharma, which is why Dogen does not accept or reject their use--he simply acknowledges that they, like everything else, exist and must be included within the understanding.

"When we pursue the truth following these texts, each of which is a sutra, countless thousand myriads volumes of totally unprecedented sutras manifest themselves in reality and exist before us. ... When, becoming able to meet them, we muster the body-mind to learn in practice -- therein using up long eons or making use of long eons -- the destination that is thorough understanding inevitably exists. When we let go of body and mind in order to learn and practice -- therein gouging out eternity, or soaring beyond eternity-- we inevitably realize the virtue of receiving and retaining sutras."

What struck me about this passage is the last phrase. He says, "we inevitably realize the virtue of receiving and retaining sutras."

Essentially, I believe he is telling us that when we encounter our life directly and are properly fed by it, we cannot avoid the understanding that it is our impressions of life that create what he calls "virtue," that is, progression on the path toward enlightenment--or, alternately, what Gurdjieff would have called development of the higher Being-bodies.

So, in his own poetic way, Dogen brings us back to this question of food as impressions.

Keeping this thread of investigation more closely aligned to the posts of the last week, let us ponder the fact that we all consistently believe it is our impressions of what flows into us from the outside that are important. A turning point in one's own work can arrive with the understanding that there are impressions that flow inside.

I have been writing for the last two posts about making a more serious effort to study these neglected impressions, which we are almost completely unaware of. Our attention is so directly attracted by, and consequently attached to-- or identified with, as Gurdjieff would put it -- external impressions that we fail to even notice internal impressions, except the coarse ones, that is, the grotesque emotional reactions and baroque forms of intellectual psychology that we all perpetually fall victim to.

To separate the coarse from the fine -- the alchemical ideal -- can begin with a more comprehensive, tactile understanding of the difference between our inner and our outer impressions.

Outer impressions are inevitable. They are what they are, they arrive as they arrive, we have no control over them.

Inner impressions are an entirely different set of possibilities. If we become sensitive to them, we can become responsible to them. They become a property belonging to our lives--not the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" that external impressions provide, but the beginning of an inner order.

The diagram of the enneagram carries this implication within its form. If we can begin to understand it, to sense it, to see it as a process taking place within us, we take a significant step on the road to inner development.

That may be a small step for a man, but it's a giant leap for...


May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

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