Monday, June 16, 2008

Mixing levels

Just before I went to lunch today, a good friend of mine who is a fascinating study--a brilliant , Pentecostal Brahman from India with an MBA, endowed with all the easy arrogance of his caste, and a great sense of humor--advised me, "There's a devil at every level."

We both had a good laugh at that.

I've had a good deal of devils lately, all the way from microbes to "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson," which, it turns out, will apparently never be fully sound edited. On top of that, my friend rlnyc is invoking devils in his musical theory, while my various religious friends, peers, and instructors alternately either insist that Satan is absolutely real, and utterly bent on destroying us all,

...or a figment of our imagination which we create ourselves, consequently destroying the perfection of the world.

I'm still reading the Flower Ornament Sutra. This magnificent text creates a picture of countless thousands of deities, each one of them an individual god, but all of them part of one single God. In this vision, we find no devils. Only a universe composed of infinite perfections, each one of which is infinitely revealed.

It occurs to me today that the devil is in the labels themselves. On this level, because we are unable to perceive from anything other than our dualistic perspective, good and evil emerge effortlessly from our perception. We cannot, as Gurdjieff so uncomfortably intimated, see that they are just two ends of the same stick.

In perceiving deficiency, which is in the nature of dualism, our natural instinct is to wish to fix it. To resolve it, to make it go away, so that everything conforms to our own uniquely partial idea of what perfection should be.

We forget that according to Zen practice, perfection does not exist. Imperfection does not exist. Even the very belief in enlightenment itself is mistaken: it implies an opposite state. When U.G. Krishnamurti said that there was no such thing as enlightenment--that men are, just as they are, already complete and perfect, but just don't know it-- he was echoing the observations of Zen, and perhaps those of Buddhism at large, if we want to judge from the perspective of the Flower Ornament Sutra.

At our own level, in the midst of perceived imperfections, there is an inevitable and driving urge to correct them. Perhaps man can't live without such urges: after all, in Beelzebub, Gurdjieff paints a picture of fallen mankind, endlessly striving to lift its level of Being up to one appropriate to that of a "three brained being." The allegory is conducted, inevitably, in terms of external influences and circumstances, but the quest is, in the end, forever inner.

In this context, we are tempted, when we actually touch the elephant--or are touched by it--to believe that the elephant's strength, its purity, its nobility and its heart of Truth can be turned to the task of "correcting" what is seen as deficient in the ordinary world.

Perhaps, however--just perhaps-- it doesn't work that way. Perhaps elephants are elephants, and ought to be left to be the elephants they are. Perhaps the work of the elephant is an inner work that, although it touches this world, can never be quite of this world--or at least not in the sense that we understand it.

Perhaps the elephant knows just what it is up to, despite the interference of our ordinary mind, our ordinary needs, our ordinary insistence.

I bring this up in order to remind us all that--as the Christian prayer says--we are here to lift our hearts up to the Lord, not to bring the Lord down to our level. When we confuse the energy, and the work, of the inner with the coarser work and even cruder requirements of the outer, we attempt to blend two separate levels, rather than mediate between them.

I am here, in other words, to bear witness to the separation and participate in the mediation--not to manipulate this ordinary life with an energy that is, in the end, both too sacred and too fine to apply to the matters of the flesh.

The seeing is just seeing. The Being is just Being. In the midst of this, we live our lives, we have our reactions, we engage within the contexts required of us by life itself. To stand between-- this is where we can begin to learn what we are.

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

1 comment:

  1. This is such rich material that I hardly know where to begin. I had just written a long commentary to your post and just as I was going to send it, my computer stole it from me. Was that the devil in action? Or just a random glitch?

    You know that I have been studying the Devil and pondering on this very subject for quite a few years now, both from the ideas of Mr. Gurdjieff as well as from the esoteric musical theorem that I follow.

    In music there is an actual interval which is nicknamed "The Devil's Interval", also called the Tritone. In music this accounts for an asymmetry in the Major Scale, where the word Major means "of supreme importance; greater in stature or significance".

    There is an ancient myth that I often tell my music students which is called the "Myth of The Cosmic Sacrificing Satan". It goes something like this:

    In the beginning was the Creator and he wished to create a universe in order to enjoy. He created a universe out of his own being, but his own being was perfect, and perfection has a serious problem connected with it. Anything that is perfect has no reason to change. It has no reason to move, and therefore vanishes -- the only thing that doesn't move or change is something which is "dead". (I am speaking mathematically -- not in the real world, where even the dead decay and move along with everything else).

    God tried again and again but with the same results. Every university created out of his own perfection vanished immediately. So he asked his firstborn son, Lucifer (remember that God's first words in Genesis are "let there be light!"), to do him a favor. God asked Lucifer if he would diminish himself and act in the role of Satan, which translates into English as the opposer. God asked Lucifer if he would go to the opposite end of the universe and perform the following task: to prevent any created thing from reaching perfection -- to act as a "stopgap" and introduce asymmetry into the Cosmos.

    Lucifer agreed out of his great love for the Creator, even though he knew that in his role as Satan, all created things would hate him, and that he would be the subject of scorn and derision -- which is called the way of blame, or Malamat in the Islamic tradition.

    This accords with modern quantum cosmological physics, which is still trying to figure out why there was an asymmetry between matter and antimatter in the first trillions of the second after the Big Bang. It seems that for every billion particles of antimatter there were a billion and one particles of matter. The matter and the antimatter annihilated each other creating radiation and the one extra particle of matter is the resultant matter that exists in this universe. All the matter that exists in this universe are from that leftover minuscule asymmetry.

    So this is the Cosmic Sacrificing Satan, who in essence, rules the universe at the behest of the Creator.

    This same scenario was played out on earth in the persons of Jesus and Judas, where Jesus asked Judas betray him into the hands of those that would cause his death. In certain esoteric Christian traditions Judas is held in the highest esteem, as he was the only disciple strong enough to carry out Jesus' command. All the other disciples thought that Jesus was going to be an earthly King and throw off the yoke of Roman occupation, and restore the Judaic kingdom.

    But Jesus himself said even to his disciples -- "You all, all of you, are children of the devil." He also declared that Satan was the ruler of this "World," and when he was asked by Pilate if he was a King he answered yes, but with the addendum that his kingdom was not of this realm.

    Jesus and Judas were both exemplars of the Malamat, or way of blame. Jesus, by taking upon himself all the sins of the world, and Judas by letting his name be sullied for all of time. This pair replicated the cosmic creation which I have described as the myth of the cosmic sacrificing Satan.

    As to the Flower Ornament Sutra. I am certain that I haven't read it in a very long time, but I am extremely versed in Buddhism, Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism etc...

    I have spent my entire life studying religions and sciences, and even if the Flower Ornament Sutra describes only the beneficent perfection of as you say, countless thousands of deities, Tibetan Buddhism as well as Hinduism has gods that have both beneficent as well as terrifying aspects. They cannot be separated from each other, even if one wishes to dwell for a time on the beneficent side.

    As to U. G. Krishnamurti's statement, while it may be true that things are AS THEY ARE, and thus perfect, they are imperfect at the same time. The problem as I see it is that men strive for perfection when it is simply unattainable by reason of the architecture and government of the greater Cosmos. This is the failure of the Advaida Vedanta, which is said to have a higher and a lower teaching. To govern from the statement of Mr. Krishnamurti, one could ascertain that he is promulgating the lower Advaida Vedanta, which is often mistaken as a simple laissez-faire, while the higher Advaida Vedanta (which technically means non-dual end of the teachings) would proclaim that this realization is the most difficult effort possible for a man, because it requires an acceptance and inner stability that hardly any men have.

    Regarding the Christian admonition to raise our hearts to the Lord, certainly you are right. This is our effort, but I would like to bring up a technical element with respect to the Lord's prayer that you and your readers might not know.

    Jesus spoke Aramaic, which was the lingua franca of his day, and which was the parent language of both Hebrew and Arabic. (interesting aside -- that the speakers of these two languages are at the greatest loggerheads ever seen by the human race)

    When the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, he gave them the Lord's prayer. Somehow in translation from Aramaic to Greek and then into English, there was a mistake made which might seem slight, but which makes a tremendous difference. Since when I say the Lord's prayer I say it in Aramaic, and I doubt any of your readers understand Aramaic, I will render a translation into English without the mistake.

    Our Father/Mother/Breather of the Cosmos, may your name be protected, secret and hidden.

    Come, come, your Kingdom.

    May Your Will which manifests in Heaven reach all the way down to Earth.

    Allow us from your abundance, the milk of today, and protect us from evil.


    The English version states the following, "May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven", whereas the Aramaic says the opposite -- "May your will which manifests in heaven reach the Earth", the word earth in this case meaning us Men.

    So we ARE in fact asking for the higher influence to come down to this level, in fact if we are sincere in our prayers, we are begging for that very thing. We are pleading like the widow in the parable, waking up the judge in the middle of the night demanding justice.

    I love your friends saying: "there is a devil at every level." It reminds me of the work saying: "big angel, big devil".

    Let's remember that when Mr. Gurdjieff began teaching in Russia before the first world war his students and disciples continuously asked him where he got his teaching. Sometimes he would say he made it all up himself. Other times he would say that he was a member of a group who studied together. Other times he would say that he got this teaching directly from the devil, and of course there is the story of the sly man and the devil which was often told in the early days.

    Mr. Gurdjieff named his protagonist Beelzebub, Lord of the flies, and one of the chief devils.

    Holy Affirming
    Holy Denying
    Holy Reconciling

    Yours sincerely. Most sincerely.



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