Monday, February 16, 2009


In the Gurdjieff work, we sometimes discuss the idea that we are here to receive. And indeed, as I have mentioned to readership before, the first truly profound realization I ever had about the nature of life was that we are vessels into which the world flows.

The idea of receiving is a powerful one in Buddhism as well. Dogen frequently speaks of receiving the one-to-one transmission of the Dharma.

Such receiving ought not to be construed as an intellectual transmission. It is a receiving that takes place within the body and blood, the bones and the marrow of a man. In Christianity, we refer to this as receiving Christ in body and blood, a literal truth which is allegorically expressed in the Communion.

What is it we are trying to receive?

Here's one point of view. In Bendowa, first chapter of the Shobogenzo (Nishijima and Cross translation, Dogen Sangha Press, 1994, volume 1 page 4), Dogen says:

"The sutras say that the many patriarchs and the many Buddhas, who dwelt in and maintained the Buddha Dharma, all relied on the practice of sitting erect in the samadhi of receiving and using the self, and esteemed this practice as the right way to disclose the state of realization."

What does this mean, to receive the self?

I think we can fairly say, no one knows the Self. Dogen uses the word to express something much vaster than the tiny perspective I usually inhabit. The "self," as it is used here, refers to an all-inclusive property of reality that we are not accustomed to referring to as "self"; it is composed of what the Buddhists called Bodhi-Dharma, truth-encompassing-reality.

It's reminiscent, isn't it, of Mr. Gurdjieff's comment that everything is, in fact, one single thing?

So there is an experience of self that transcends what I call ego. Attempting to refer to it from this tiny, personalized perspective of self is a patent absurdity; when I speak of the search for self, I don't even know what I search for. Not from within this self.

From within an experience of the organic sense of Being, however, one slowly begins to arrive at a more depersonalized sense of self that stems from a continuity within life, rather than the individuality of experience.

Tonight, for example, I was over at a friend's house while my daughter got a massage. I stepped outside the door to let his dog out so she could do her business; for one brief moment, awareness itself, unsullied by "me," took in the impression of fresh cold air and the constellation Orion against the deepening blue of the early evening sky.

The experience was just the experience. Not "me" having the experience. Within this lies the spontaneous clarity of existence itself, and a silence that provokes both joy and remorse, emerging at the same time within the organism as a single state of worship.

As I grow older, immersed within the experience of organic sensation in the inward flow of life, I begin to see that what I usually referred to as "self" doesn't exist. It is like the weather; a constantly changing environment, endlessly interactive and responsive, but not what this conscious experience is made of. It is an adjunct to conscious experience-- a byproduct of it --not the originating root.

That question of the original root of consciousness is the question in front of my state of Being.

Inevitably, a contradiction arises between my egocentric experience of reality and the understanding that that perspective is inevitably contracted. In the very act of seeing that there is something referred to as "I", as "the self," there is a tacit acknowledgment that what sees is different than this thing called self.

What is it that sees?

From this, also, there is a separation. To fully inhabit what sees would be quite different.

So, do I pursue the understanding of self, or do I relax and open to receive the understanding of self?

Is this connected to the idea in the Lord's prayer: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done?" Is that perhaps a prayer for us to open enough to "receive and use the self," as Dogen puts it?

There is a great deal available to be received. As Dogen puts it in the very first paragraph of Bendowa, "This Dharma is abundantly present in each human being, but if we do not practice it, it does not manifest itself, and if we do not experience it, it cannot be realized."

Anyone who reads Ravi Ravindra's "Heart Without Measure" will see that Jeanne De Salzmann was equally interested in this exact same question. The effort needs to be to penetrate the practice; and this practice is most decidedly not penetrable by the mind. We ought not analyze the practice, we ought not intellectualize the practice, we ought to live within the practice.

We must, in a word, receive the practice.

And we do not--cannot--receive the practice from another person. The practice is not something that we can "get" by relying on a teacher or outside forces. As Gurdjieff himself said, the only real initiation is self initiation. Something must change within us that turns us towards the famous wall at Shaolin which Bodhidharma faced for nine years after coming from the west.

This facing the wall is a willingness to stand in front of practice and suffer it, that is, allow it.

The parts of me that can receive what I need are closed. The experience of that has become an ordinary one, so much so that I accept it most of the time.

There is a danger in that. I have become complacent in my inability.

This is why Dogen, why Gurdjieff, and why Jeanne De Salzmann all constantly exhort us to adopt an active practice.

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

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