Monday, February 11, 2008

A volcano, and Huang Po's One Mind

Today's photograph is of Lake Atitlan, a caldera (volcanic crater) of massive proportions with three active volcanoes on its banks.

See them? Those three huge volcanoes are just the babies; the little guys that popped up after their mother was done venting. The lake is "the" volcano; or, rather, where the volcano was before it blew its top off.

The last major eruption of this whopper occurred 85,000 years ago, and created the lovely lake, which all the other cones could probably fit into. It's safe to say this eruption--which scattered ash as far away as Florida--messed things up pretty bad. If an eruption of this size took place today, Guatemala (and the rest of central America) as we know it would pretty much cease to exist, after being carpeted in three to ten feet of ashfall. The impact of the ejecta would probably alter the world's climate for years afterwards in a dramatic manner: it might even reverse global warming.

The area is still active; chances of another eruption this large--at any time-- are good. These sobering facts inject an underlying current of unease and excitement into what is otherwise a tranquil and magnificent scene.

In some ways it reminds me of the manner in which our negativity lurks underneath our calm surface until something explodes. We all look beautiful until the s**t hits the fan, don't we?

There are many fascinating impressions from Guatemala yet to be recorded on these pages. Today, however, they will have to continue waiting in the wings. Instead, I want to bring up something that struck me very deeply while I was on the plane on the way home last night.

In reference to my many posts about the six inner flowers, consider this quote from "The Zen Teaching of Huang Po", Grove press, copyright 1958 by John Blofeld, page 51:

"The term unity refers to a homogeneous spiritual brilliance which separates into six harmoniously blended 'elements.' The homogeneous and spiritual brilliance is the One Mind, while the six harmoniously blended 'elements' are the six sense organs. These six sense organs become severally united with objects that defile them -- the eyes with form, the ear with sound, the nose with smell, the tongue with taste, the body with touch, and the thinking mind with entities. Between these organs and their objects arise the six sensory perceptions, making eighteen sense-realms in all. If you understand that these eighteen realms have no objective existence, you will bind the six harmoniously blended 'elements' into a single spiritual brilliance -- a single spiritual brilliance which is the One Mind. All students of the Way know this, but cannot avoid forming concepts of 'a single spiritual brilliance' and 'the six harmoniously blended elements.' Accordingly they are chained to entities and fail to achieve a tacit understanding of original mind."

This single passage suggests that the Zen Masters (Huang Po was second or third generation in the direct line of transmission of Mind from the sixth great patriarch of Zen, Hui Neng) fully understood the type of work delineated by Gurdjieff with his enneagram. It's very much worthy of comparison to Gurdjieff's presentation in New York in 1924 (found in the very last chapter of Beelzebub) in which he mentions the same six sensory organs. Not only that, I think the basic understanding of the six inner senses, and their corruption by the five outward senses, was clearly understood by Zen masters as well.

Admittedly, there are some few differences between the more exacting interpretations I offer and the passage in question. However, we need to understand (as the translator points out in his introduction) that Chinese characters have mutable meanings, which allow implications that may not be evident to a translator. My opinion is that because the difference between the inner and outer senses is not well understood, translators routinely assume that the five outer and the six inner senses are somehow the same sets of senses. (We do find passages in Dogen that make it clearer this is not the case.)

In my eyes, there can be no doubt from the overall gist of the passage that Huang Po was referring to the completion of the inner enneagram by separation of the inner from the outer senses.

I encourage you to do some inner spelunking and draw your own conclusions.

I don't think it's profitable to spend too much time dwelling on what the "One Mind" means. Huang Po himself discouraged his pupils from doing so, insisting it could not be defined. He avoided the question so vigorously that reading his responses can become frustrating in very short order.

Nonetheless, I think he was wise to make sure there were no definitions applied here. In our own case, it is best we proceed with the work of making our inner parts whole, without worrying about what the results will be. As I have said before, when we get to Rome, we will know why we want to be there.

The only concern I have for the teaching offered by Huang Po is that it comes quite strictly from what is well-known to be the Dhyana school of yoga, that is, the way of perfecting the intellect, or, as Gurdjieff calls it, the way of the yogi. Ergo, what we find here--as in much Zen teaching-- is a method of perfecting one center. Those of us who choose the Gurdjieff work do so precisely because our instincts tell us this is inadequate.

Consistent with my choice, I am left with the distinct impression is that enlightenment as he presents it is not enough. His work is superior: it is not ultimate.

The participation of the other two centers is essential. It is only by subjecting ourselves to the deep and profoundly transformational power of emotion that we can truly reach the heart of our humanity. And it is only with the organic sense of being, with gravity, the full sensation of the body, that we can inhabit our humanity rather than abandoning it.

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

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