One of the features of Zen Buddhism is its emphasis on the ordinary. Without drawing any definite conclusions, the observation of, and inhabitation of, the ordinary is carefully investigated.
Gurdjieff was equally committed to the rediscovery of the ordinary. He said that an ordinary man -- an obyvatel, or good householder --might well achieve more than someone who set out with a grand aim in mind.
A question arises as to how I perceive myself within ordinary life. I see that I am within this life. This life is not within me; I am within it. So I do not include life, life includes me.
If I begin by seeing myself as containing life, then life belongs to me. It's a grand thing, this! I am the owner of life! I make myself the boss of everything that happens. Sound familiar? Roughly speaking, the whole planet runs on this energy. It is a perspective born strictly of the ego. Once life belongs to me, it ought to do what I say, and I can have control over it.
If, on the other hand, I begin by seeing life as containing me, I am part of a whole -- a very tiny part of a vast whole.
We can liken these two different perspectives to Gurdjieff's practices on considering. When I perceive the origination of life as being within me, I consider inwardly. If I perceive life as originating outside of me, I consider outwardly. The motive forces are diametrically opposed: one is all about the power of ego, and the other one is about service.
Please be clear that I'm not speaking here about events and circumstances. The question here lies within an organic perception of the act of living.
If I sense myself with a finer perception, if I make an effort to be in relationship with the sensation of the body, I find myself as being more within life. This is where the organic sense of being takes me: I inhabit my life. I meet life on its own terms, its unpredictable, unfair, and even unreasonable terms. There is no separation from life; in discovering of the self within life, the self is included in life. It is ordinary. It is part of a continuum. It's only if I try to take possession of life, to claim that life is inside me, that I separate myself from the nature of life.
So, then, what is the nature of what takes place within the organism? After all, it, too, appears to be life. I think the difference lies in the understanding between the point of origination and the point of conclusion. We touch here on Dogen's discussions of cause and effect. I must see this in broad terms, because of course situations are reciprocal. In broad terms it is a question of the term "work in life" and what it means.
If the cause of life is inside me, then I think I am the center of my work, and can transform life.
If the cause of life originates from without, then life becomes the center of my work, and life transforms me.
The first proceeds from the controlling nature of ego, the second proceeds from the humbling nature of acceptance and humility.
I am a point that receives the nature of life. A vessel into which the world flows. In a sense, the entire world exists with or without this vessel; the absolute truth of the Dharma is immutable, regardless of the presence or absence of the vessel. The vessel is temporary; the Dharma is eternal. The vessel discovers itself only in the context of "within this life. " It cannot discover itself anywhere else, because this is the only location it exists in. For the vessel -- this expression of consciousness -- to discover its self within itself isn't possible. It discovers itself through the outward consideration, the realization, of relationship. This is another feature in Zen. Every koan is about the relationship, not the explanation. The explanation is always incorrect -- even the correct explanation is incorrect. It is the relationship that expresses the truth, not the facts.
Within this life, self remembering consists of understanding the relationship.
How do I receive my life? I stands between two sets of forces, the inner and the outer perception. The outer perceptions want to take life and hold it; they are the coarse elements of our sensory ability. Our inner sensory perceptions, which are geared and tooled specifically to receive the impressions of life, are capable of a different quality of relationship.
In a certain sense, I am here to suffer my life: to allow it. Remember that Mr. Gurdjieff told us that the non-expression of negative emotion is a practice that gives us a clue about what the idea of intentional suffering means. I won't spell it out; the question of the relationship between being within this life and not expressing negativity is a living question.
Within this life, we meet each other on the common ground of our own humanity. What could be simpler?
May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.