Saturday, August 9, 2008

compassion, humility, foundation

One of the Buddhas at Lingyin temple in Hangzhou.

One of the consequences of many years in the Gurdjieff work--as, perhaps, in any spiritual work -- is that one actually begins to change.

One starts out in any work being told that change is possible, but requires effort. One acquires a theoretical idea of what change consists of. But once change truly arises, one discovers that the theories one had are inaccurate.

In this particular work, we are told to commit ourselves to self observation, and we stumble around with the idea for many years, doing our best to understand it from many different angles. We are not, necessarily, told exactly what to observe or how to observe it -- just to observe. And indeed, in the long run, one is both told -- and one discovers -- that the point is to just see.

In the acquisition of this understanding, factors in life begin to change. We are not, in the Gurdjieff work, specifically told how we will begin to change, or what will change, or what should change.

Now, this is certainly different than religions. They damned well tell you what must change.

Or else.

Brazenly do-it-yourself spirituality such as Gurdjieff's doesn't hand out such information on a silver platter. So in many ways, we in the work undertake this practice of self observation on faith. We are told that we will begin to "awaken.". Or at least, that we will not sleep so soundly.

What does all that mean?

To a certainty, we are not sure. I have watched people who are decidedly my seniors in the work continue to struggle with this question after many years of dedicated effort. Some of us come to one thing; some of us come to another; some begin to question whether they are coming to anything at all. This is a work that tries the soul with hammer and tongs; no ready-made answers await us. We must each heat our own anvil and make shoes for our own horse.

Perhaps we may all be a bit baffled by what we do--or don't--come to. Many of us eventually see definite "results" of one kind or another, and in numerous cases, when we compare notes, we begin to see points of contact. Nonetheless, for each man or woman, his or her inner voyage of self-discovery is unique, and we are left seeing ourselves--whether with disgust, astonishment, or sympathy--are ultimately surprised at what we see, not knowing whether this is what was "supposed" to happen.

Is anything "supposed" to happen? Are we supposed to know what will happen? Regular readers will recall that I have said many times, anything we can imagine will happen is wrong. Real "results" of inner work consistently defy imagination and defy expectations.

So let's talk about that for a minute.

For myself, one of the most unexpected turns in my work, a turn onto a path that emerged over seven years ago, is a turn deeper and deeper into the question of seeing my own smallness. Or, as Gurdjieff would call it, my nothingness.

Continually confronted with this understanding -- which, I must say, is a chemical and organic understanding, not an idea I have -- the twin forces of humility and compassion become ever more active questions for me in the exercise of life. Now, mind you, that doesn't mean I have humility or that I have compassion -- it just means that they may visit me from time to time, and when they arrive, I welcome them like old friends, because I know that they are teachers who come from far away to help me.

Is that what Gurdjieff intended for us? I don't know. I do know that it lies very close to the bones of Christianity; or, if you will forgive an entirely inappropriate comparison, it's the very meat of Buddhism. LOL. My own take on it is, if Gurdjieff did not intend for us to understand these questions, his work must be flawed, because it has led me inexorably down this path, despite the fact that compassion and humility do not seem to be prominently signposted features of the Gurdjieffian landscape.

Well, perhaps I am not being entirely accurate there. Certainly, in "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson," these ideas are touched on enough times, if from oblique and unexpected directions. Nonetheless, I don't necessarily meet people discussing these "results" all that often in groups or elsewhere. The experiences I have -- experiences of what I believe Gurdjieff would have called "organic shame," the deepest sense of sorrow about my own lack -- the anguish that visits me in an inner sense whenever I draw closer to something that is real and true within myself -- well, I don't hear much about this from other people.

Am I becoming too Christian? Too Buddhist?

Is there such a thing?

I can't tell you. I don't always spout the party line in the Gurdjieff work, but I see myself as a conservative. I don't believe in mixing lines of work, and I feel reasonably sure I have some things wrong that even more conservative folks -- especially older ones -- would probably set me right on.

That worries me, because I see that I don't know enough, and I increasingly see that, as Gurdjieff said, the elder is the teacher. Some of those hidebound, conservative, annoying older people who I secretly (and sometimes publically) object to are probably much closer to the truth than I want them to be. Because of this, as I grow older, I learn. Sometimes what I learn is that they had it right all along, silly me.

So anyone who catches me backing down from a position in this blog, don't be surprised. I get things wrong all the time. As I have said before, these are the best experiences -- when I get things wrong. After all, if I get something wrong, and realize it, then I have learned something new. Getting things right just encourages me to keep trudging over the same territory again and again.

There is one area, though, where I will not cede any territory, and this is in the area where I insist that we must all attempt to deepen an organic understanding of compassion and humility.

Every ounce of effort that we expend criticizing one another, fighting one another, is an ounce of effort that could have gone in to a better kind of inner work. I wish to come to the table of my own life every day and make sure that everyone else who sits at it is served the largest possible bowl of forgiveness. I need to learn to meet others on the common ground of our own humanity.

That is an increasingly humbling place, worthy to share with my friends and enemies alike.

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

1 comment:

  1. we all know the story of the master who overpours the students cup of tea to show him that he is too stuffed with opinions and ideas to be taught. It is interesting that C.Daly says in his Oragean Version (unpublished mss) that he calls the teaching the hidden learing rather than the hidden teaching.

    I used to arrive at the Foundation sure of what the work was, and an hour or so later MY idea was completely turned inside out.

    Humility indeed, force fed by a soft and sublime rearrangement. I have been "knocked off my horse" more times than I can count.

    But I no longer have that support --I have been placed on my own. I spent 15 years with the "elders", and my "line" of work has diverged from the dogma which protects the impulse of the work like a rubber sheath protects the electrical flow in a wire, and as I always used to and still say, the force of the true spiritual transmission travels through frayed wiring.

    But forced to stand on my own two feet, with a vertical spine during the daylight hours and horizontal when I sleep, I have become so different as the result of my contact with Mr. Gurdjieff and his ideas and people that I am like a fully burnished sword. I had much preparation beforehand, but I was a fakir, not knowing why I suffered so, especially at my own hand. Now I know, and as Mr. Gurdjieff said, that beforehand mechanical or semiconscious suffering has come in mighty handy, now that I KNOW.

    The contact with the Foundation and the elders who knew Mr. Gurdjieff was indespensable to aliven me, and turn me so that I have permanent direction and foreknowledge of my aim, my elephant task that beforehand was like a distant mirage, known but fuzzy; angels on horsback heading towards me in the heat of the day.

    Now I know, and am prepared and tested. I am completely renewed and my impulses have turned into understanding. I understand the laws I am under, both first and second bodies and a taste of third. And I know that the fourth room is not empty, but waiting on me to enter and meet the master, once I find the combination to the subtle lock and it's combination.

    Some keys are adamantine, while others are soft as feathers, and both are needed to open that door. And I am convinced that real contact face to face with those in Mr. Gurdjieff's direct lineage to set oneself on the anvil, thereby to be hammered into something of use to the cosmos. Yes, the Elders also have feet of clay, as do we all -- there are none in the work that arrive fully developed, but there is also not a need for everyone to live in the repair shop forever -- the work is for life, and must find itself there, correcting the horizontal, and collecting the honey of common sense throuwn away by the vast majority of mankind, especially at these times of war. Much work remains to be done, always.

    I made a vow a very long time ago... and have not broken it. This is within my own will -- and I have been faithful in consciousness to it, as well as in conscience. I will be here forever, until my work is done...

    Blessings to all from under the Kalpa Tree.



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