Monday, June 16, 2008
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.