I was speaking with my daughter, who is about to graduate from Cornell, this morning about the role of a teacher or a parent.
The question came up of what distinguishes a worthy teacher or a worthy parent. I told her that a real teacher or a real parent always has a wish for their child or their student to go further than they did. This is a tradition in Zen Buddhism, where every generation is supposed to try and go further still.
And, you know, it ought to be a tradition everywhere, for everyone.
If we are trapped in the considerations of our own ego, then we fear the next generation. We are afraid of being replaced, instead of hopeful that that is what will happen. Most certainly, history, mythology, and literature are filled with stories of those who would not let go: elders so obsessed with their own importance that they tried to crush the young, even their own young. Many of us will probably even encounter situations like this in our own life.
Let's try to make our wish bigger than that, shall we? Like bodhisattvas, perhaps we can all agree to take vows not only to try and help our children and our students go further than we do, but also our fellow men. Let us work together in a spirit of cooperation, supporting each other in the hope that the next man may go deeper, may climb higher, may become more whole than we are. What helps one child helps all children; what helps one man helps all men.
Ah. Perhaps those of us in the Gurdjieff work are too hard-bitten to believe in such an idea.
Is it too sentimental? I don't think so. The bodhisattva vow is hardly unique to Buddhism. As Christ said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13.) The idea is not sentimental. It it is a real idea, related to real work. If we are not willing to surrender ourselves for a greater good, in both an inner and an outer sense, how worthy can we possibly be?
This question of worthiness visits me frequently. I've spoken many times of the deep sorrow we encounter if we truly begin to sense our own nothingness. This is no exercise, no philosophical idea I speak of here. This is the hard and difficult ground of real inner work.
We are actually unable to see our own nothingness ourselves. This is back to the question of man not being able to "do." We need help for that. If grace comes, we begin to experience a real and organic sorrow. This is not a sorrow of our self or for our self; it is a sorrow that belongs to God. If the Creator is truly sorrowful, as Mr. Gurdjieff maintained, He has to be sorrowful because His wish for us is so great--like the wish of the worthy teacher or the worthy parent for the child to go further.
And we do not go further. We fall short. We are not worthy.
This is a recurring theme in religion; yes, there are friends of mine out there who are going to argue this point with me, but I will not let go of it. If there is a sentimental idea on the table in front of us, it's the idea that we are already perfect, but just don't know it. Even if this idea were true--which no one actually knows, although it sounds very important when someone says it--it hardly applies to us. And Mr. Gurdjieff certainly didn't present it that way. We ought to move past such dreams and on to the more concrete realities of our inadequacy.
This question of "laying down our life for our friends" touches on a question of inner work, as well as the more obvious implications it has for our outer and earthly manifestations.
There is a need for us, at a certain point of our work, to be willing to let go and make room for a different part of ourselves. In this regard, our personality, our self as we now understand it, is the parent, and it must find a way to support the child and allow it to go further. This is a very difficult concept to understand, even when it remains in front of us as an idea and can be subjected to formulation.
How very much more difficult it is when we discover ourselves in front of this question in a concrete way.
Are we able, within all the power and maturity that our well-developed personality confers on us, willing to step aside and let the child of our essence grow?
Even more important, are we able to open our Being enough to allow a real force, a higher force, for growth to enter? Confronting this kind of question takes a kind of courage most of us don't have in us.
Perhaps each of us needs to adopt an inner bodhisattva, a part of ourselves that vows to stay with the work until everyone -- in an inner, not an outer sense-- is liberated.
May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.