Wednesday, April 2, 2008

We are what we are


Yesterday, I had occasion to think once again about Dogen's comments regarding our nature, and our perception of our nature.

In the Gurdjieff work, we practice the art of self observation, which begins being understood as one thing, and is eventually understood as something else entirely. Along the way, it is understood in many different ways. It is thus safe to say that self observation is, in its self, a process, and a moving target. We do not understand the self in any way, shape, or form; and it is difficult, isn't it, to observe something we do not understand?

In the Buddhist conception of the "ultimate" reality, there can be no legitimate separation between consciousness -- in whatever form it manifests itself -- and total awareness. Even what Gurdjieff would call "sleep" and what the Buddhists call "illusion" are an aspect of the manifestation of total awareness. In fact, in Buddhism, every single manifestation of any kind whatsoever is all simply an aspect of the Dharma, which contains everything within existence.

In Christianity, insufficiency of awareness -- manifested as negative behavior -- is characterized as "sin." Gurdjieff's conception of sin was not that different (He indicated "sin" can only exist once a man knows the difference, i.e., has achieved a level of sufficient awareness.)

It may well be that when we try to understand "sin" as acting badly, which is the conventional Christian perception of the word, we are painting it in terms much too narrow for a complete understanding. "Sin" can perhaps be better summarized as meaning our present state as we are. This encompasses Saint Augustine's contention that we are all inherently in a state of sin. I used to believe that he meant by this that we are all essentially bad, but I'm not sure at all that this is what he was actually getting at now.

In traditional Christianity, recognition and admission of sin-- which could be construed as an act of self awareness, self observation, or awakening -- is what is necessary in order to come to a recognition of God. In other words, even within our inherent state of "sin" -- which I am now, in this argument, expressing as nothing more than our "thusness"--we are already fully within the body of God (the Dharma) since nothing can be separated from it.

Using these hypotheses, we see that there may not be much separation at all between Buddhism and Christianity in this matter, despite their apparently rather divergent understandings.

This means that our state of consciousness as it is is already sufficient and true, needing no improvement, no correction, no change, in order for it to flow in complete accordance with the Dharma.

Sounds ridiculous, eh? Surely, then, we might all ask ourselves, why the perpetual perception of inner insufficiency that brings us all to spiritual work?

I think that the difficulty arises not from our state as it is, which is in some senses insurmountable--there may well be an inherently deterministic element to this and Gurdjieff certainly implied as much in Beelzebub--, but our perception of our state. Perception in man has become separated from reality. Even this separation itself, which consists of an artificial, or contrived, divorce between subject and object is a product of reality.

In what appears to be the supreme paradox, accepting the illusion -- accepting all of the conditions, including our insufficiency, and our state exactly as we are--including our sleep, including our sin, including our illusions -- offers the possibility of transcending the separation.

This suggests that we need to immerse ourselves in what we are, rather than trying to change it, improve it, or find out what is wrong with it. We are what we are. If we fail at all, it is first in the knowing of what we are that we fail, not in the being of what we are.

This returns me to the question of what it means to inhabit my life, a question of immediate interest to me as I sit here crafting this essay.

More on this question tomorrow, insh'Allah.

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

2 comments:

  1. Becoming truly intimate with the creature that each of us knows as 'myself' is a great place to begin to scratch that itch of "inner insufficiency that brings us all to spiritual work."
    I would say that the motive to deal with that sense of incompleteness is usually just as contaminated with sin as the rest of ones life. For instance, accepting that something in me was bent on a basic level without becoming also hyper-critical of my fellow humans and the way of life that prevailed through the actions of all of us proved to be beyond me.

    But, I still had this itch to scratch. I agree that one must begin with one's "thusness" but what in us can 'see' clearly what is without also drawing us around to become concerned again with the specks in our fellows eyes?

    Isn't the Christian idea of Sin useless without the idea of Forgivness? Is Gurdjieff's idea of thanking the people who give you the opportunity to work on yourself in that same vain?

    I guess I worry about the suggestion that anyone can really look, as they are, without changing what it is they are looking at.

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  2. Forgiveness and acceptance are bedfellows.

    If sin is a "condition," rather than a value judgment, we may discover that the idea of "acceptance" makes more sense than forgiveness--although I would agree forgiveness, as it is conventionally understood, is a deeply necessary practice.

    As to changing what we are looking at-- I would ask, why worry about it?

    Change is a fundamental condition. Whether we look at ourselves or not, change is ubiquitous, perpetual, and eternal. It may be that ascribing any perceived change to "ourselves" and our efforts is presumptuous. It implies we can "do," which is not necessarily the case. The only real change which is possible for us may be "seeing" versus "not-seeing"--which brings me back to the essential premise of the post.

    The presence of the observer always changes the outcome of the state: this is a law derived from the very root of quantum mechanics. Since we can't escape that fact, we might as well participate in it in whatever way our understanding allows us to.

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