Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Yesterday, my friend rlnyc left a comment about Islam on my last post.
I was pondering this question this morning while sitting, in relationship to a question I have been working on in general about the nature of what it means to submit to God's will: not from a verbal point of view, but to submit.
The essential difficulty with the idea of jihad, as the extremists in contemporary Islam understand it, is that they have completely mistaken the nature of the enterprise. Rlnyc pointed that out. Just to expound a bit more on what he so deftly touched on: the way that such men interpret submission is always through their own minds.
When any man attempts to get another man to "submit" to the will of God, according to his understanding, he isn't working to help the other man submit to the will of God at all. He is trying to get him to submit to his will. Throughout history, ordinary religious men have perpetually misunderstand their will as being the same as the will of the Almighty. This is an inevitable pitfall generated by the very nature of the external self.
Everything that we think -- everything that we form with our conventional, associative minds, through our contact with external life -- is, inevitably, the will of man. Ecclesiastes shapes its entire message around the fact that all external activity is vanity, again, that is, the will of man. Paul's tension between the spirit and the flesh is meat cut from the selfsame animal.
All of the ideas we form within ourselves about everything -- even these ideas I am writing, and you are reading, now -- are firmly attached to the external, and represent, as it were, the will of man. This is, of course, a somewhat imperfect representation of the situation, but hopefully you can sense the way the analogy is developing.
In the Lord's prayer, immediately after the acknowledgment of the Lord's supremacy, the first idea that is introduced is that man's will must be retired so that God's will may enter. In the same way (as the author of The Cloud Of Unknowing says) we cannot know God with the mind, we can also not define the Will of God with words. The Lord's prayer implicitly contains within it the understanding that we don't and can't understand God's Will.
Not with these ordinary parts, anyway.
The entire form that we adopt -- the external life we live, the ideas and opinions we have, everything that Gurdjieff used to call "false personality--" is a seed, or, more properly expressed, the shell of a seed. It is a husk, nothing more than a protective layer.
Within it lies an element that, under the right set of circumstances, can change and grow. The parable of the mustard seed in the Bible is about exactly this question.
In order for a seed to change and grow, it has to let something quite different into it. That something is referred to as "water." The role of "heavenly water" is sketched out by the life and deeds of John the Baptist in the New Testament. Water was, and is, necessary in order for the seed to grow. The seed in us has to surrender the hard shell which protects it from the outside, and allow water to enter. At that point, the seed dies, and begins to become something very different than a seed.
In our current state, attached to our form, invested in protection, we cling firmly to the shell. We have the mistaken idea that somehow this seed-shell we live inside is already a tree--that is, that where we are, how we experience, what we think, and so on, actually has some relationship to the will of God. This mistaken idea of what we are stands in the way of anything new happening.
The Buddhists understand this in the sense of attachment, and they say we must surrender all our attachments. This idea of surrendering all our attachments is the same as giving up our form, or shedding our husk. That is, realizing that what we manifest within which is formed in terms of external factors is not part of what we seek from an inner point of view.
The parable of the mustard seed is a yogic parable. The seed has to know when to generate. If it lets water in at the wrong time, it may germinate when it is too hot, or too cold, or too dry, or too wet. In other words, germination itself already has to take place within the context of consciousness.
This, perhaps, is the biggest challenge of the seed: to know that it is a seed, and to understand what seeds are supposed to do. For as long as a seed thinks it is a tree, it is unable to undertake anything that will help it. It has to slowly, carefully open itself to something quite magical -- a hydraulic force, something mediated by a metaphysical water --in order to begin to grow.
The nature of the human vessel, of this organic body, is much subtler than anything our Western minds can reasonably accept. We are, in fact, "germination vessels." And one might surmise, from a careful reading of Gurdjieff's explanations to Ouspensky, that our impressions of life themselves ultimately help mediate the very water that will help us to germinate.
Each living creature is "attached" to this energy from a higher level--the holy spirit--by a "thread" that extends down into them. It is as though we are the growing tip of a root that extends downward from above; the leading edge of an exploratory tendril, dropped from a higher level into this one.
The will of God belongs to what descends from above. It is animate, living, and authoritative. It has no opinions whatsoever, because it doesn't need them. It has no language, because it speaks in the tongues of physics and chemistry. It does not speak of this earth or these things that "we" wish for or desire, because both its origin and its aim belong to needs and tasks that we, at our present level, are unable to understand.
It is, in other words, truly mysterious. Every effort that we make to drag it down to our level and "explain" it is a waste of time. Only the efforts within, in which we attempt to open ourselves, to submit in an inner sense, are profitable. And, as Mr. Gurdjieff said in the his aphorisms,
"Know that this house can only be useful to those who have recognized their own nothingness and who believe in the possibility of changing."
Our own nothingness, I believe, consists of this entire collective misunderstanding of humanity, which breeds divisions and an effort to impose our own will on the will of others.
Much better that we look to ourselves to see what is lacking, than to always see so habitually and so easily what is lacking in others.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.