Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cold blocks of ice

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Gurdjieff dearly loved to use the expression "wiseacreing" to describe the furious--and largely pointless -- intellectual activities man engages in.

He was not the only one to note that the intellect is the chief distraction in the search for real Self. Dogen made the following comments in his Shobogenzo:

"The disciples of the Buddha should just learn the Buddha-Dharma. Furthermore, we should remember that from the beginning we have never lacked the supreme state of bodhi, and we will receive it and use it forever. At the same time, because we cannot perceive it directly, we are prone to beget random intellectual ideas, and because we chase after these as if they were real things, we vainly pass by the great state of truth... We should not think that the learning of these intellectual ideas is the right path of Buddhist practice. When we solely sit in zazen, on the other hand, relying now on exactly the same posture as the Buddha, and letting go of the myriad things, then we go beyond the areas of delusion, realization, emotion, and consideration, and we are not concerned with the ways of the common and the sacred. " (Shobogenzo,, vol. 1, Bendowa, p 8-9, Nishijima & Cross, Dogen Sangha press 2006.)

As usual, it is tempting to quote a huge chunk of Dogen. I had to aggressively edit this passage to keep the text length within reasonable limits.

Both Dogen and Gurdjieff clearly understood the limits of the intellectual mind in the pursuit of intelligence. Intelligence is a three centered practice; we won't encounter it here as we read, or find it anywhere online.

The only place that we can discover Intelligence is within our own consciousness, and that is only if we begin to bring our centers together. Real Intelligence cannot be manifested by a single center. The best one can ever get from that is one-third of Intelligence.

The matter is confused by the fact that both Gurdjieff and Dogen left vast intellectual structures behind them. In Gurdjieff's case, it was "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson," which has been unfortunately adopted and used as though it were quite literally a Bible by some Gurdjieff adherents. The book can be subjected to extensive analysis, and it's certainly possible to ferret out many hidden meanings within the parables he offers.

All of that, unfortunately, becomes a remarkably clever intellectual game. It completely sidesteps the question of discovering one's inner presence, and in the hands of touts may actually begin to function as a hindrance to it. The book has consequently become a misleading tool in the hands of those who do not operate under auspices of a legitimate Gurdjieff lineage. In the formal lineages, the process is conducted according to sound principles established by Mr. Gurdjieff himself which are not available outside the legitimate lines.

In Dogen's case, the Shobogenzo has been enthusiastically laundered through the minds of countless brilliant Buddhist analysts. Dogen must have foreseen this happening-- he was an irascible sort, who frequently (and comically) insulted misguided individuals who he felt taught in an unacceptable manner. On this matter, in Bendowa he remarked, "...It is difficult to put oars into the hands of a mountaineer; nevertheless I must bestow the teaching." (p. 10)

There is an enormous amount of analysis of Buddhism taking place in print these days -- to a certainty, far more than any contemporary analysis of Gurdjieff's work -- and it is equally distracting.

So I must continually return myself to actual practice--not the analysis of the practice, and not the discussion of the practice.

The moment I seek to return to, and the sensation I seek to engage in, are not things belonging to what I conventionally understand as "this world. " The activities I seek to open to, and the air I seek to breathe in, are not the activities and the air that I imagine. In every moment of imagination -- which is to say, almost all moments -- I remove myself from Dogen's supreme state of bodhi.

The only reliable link I have to prevent this near-perpetual loss is the connection between the mind and the body in the form of sensation. If this becomes a living thing, I always have an anchor, no matter how much the boat swings in the current.

The precise examination of this question takes place in an organic manner, not an intellectual one. So I need to return my attention to the question of the organism and my relationship to it. This perpetual practice slowly builds up the substances need to make work more possible.

Reading work literature and discussing the work online cannot substitute for that work. If the work is not a living substance and an organic experience within life itself, it isn't work.

The vehicle of the mind must, in a certain sense, be discarded, and an effort must be made to strip the inner state naked, and stand before a darkness that cannot be measured.

This is within the scope of the practice of Zazen as Dogen understood it, and what we undertake today in the Gurdjieff work when we sit.

Without this warm, tactile, living, and immediate practice--with all of its messiness: the beating of hearts, the pumping of lungs, and the itching of skin --all the words, all the ideas, and all of the analysis are cold blocks of ice.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

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