Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fragments of an Unknown Being

The title of Ouspensky's well-known book on Gurdjieff's work is "In search of the Miraculous--Fragments of an Unknown Teaching."

The book lays out a complex and magnificent cosmology, which touches us (if at all-- far from everyone likes it--) intellectually--but leaves a great deal of what the Gurdjieff work is actually all about in question. Anyone who has worked in groups in any direct line of descent from Gurdjieff himself will know that the teaching is not passed on in the same manner as it's expounded in Ouspensky's book...

not at all.

"Inside" the Gurdjieff work (as if there was such a place- ha!) we're not, in the end, seekers of a teaching of cosmology. We may be interested in cosmology-- we may encounter and appreciate cosmology in the course of our work-- but we don't work for cosmology.

We work to acquire that most ephemeral, unmeasurable, non-quantifiable property of life called Being.

And real Being will never, in the end, submit itself to the limitations of analysis.

This, of course, does not prevent us from attempting to analyze -- the disease runs deep in all of us. (It is probably one of the deleterious consequences of the properties of the organ Kundabuffer.) But if our work ever becomes real in us, even for one moment in a day, we remember suddenly that what we are working for is not an idea about what could be, but a new understanding of this immediate reality.

There is a Being that lies within us which is unadulterated and divine. But, as Gurdjieff proposed, we are in pieces -- fragments -- and cannot, in our present state, know the true nature of our Being. Hence the title of this piece, "fragments of an unknown Being."

As I have pointed out in much earlier posts, the nature of consciousness, and Being itself, is fractal. This means that each human consciousness is a fragment of a larger consciousness on a higher level, in exactly the same way that an ant's consciousness is part of a greater super-organism which acts in what is a demonstrably higher level of awareness than an individual ant. (A property referred to as "emergence" in science.) Gurdjieff's enneagram is a graphic representation of this relationship between levels, if studied, and if properly understood.

Because we have lost the connection within ourselves that helps us to sense our relationship to this higher Being of which we are a part, we mostly stumble around like idiots.

Why are we here? What is Being "for?"

Nature struggled for over 3 billion years to put our individual consciousnesses in a place where we can hear, for example, the eerie and magnificent call of a red bellied woodpecker. It also struggled for 3 billion years to produce the creature that made that sound.

We live in a universe where nature, in sheer defiance of the laws of entropy, has relentlessly worked to produce a situation where the cosmos can know itself through the organs of perception of living creatures. This represents an immense amount of time, and an immense amount of labor. Uncountable deaths have been required to bring things this far -- each and every one of them a sacrifice to move the process forward to this moment, where we inhabit these bodies. As Zen master Dogen oft described it, "We have acquired these bodies, difficult to acquire, and encountered this dharma, difficult to encounter..."

This situation confers a responsibility on us to question where we are, what we are doing, why we are here. Every time we fail to arrive threshold of our lives with at least some small part of an intention to be more aware, to be more sensitive, to be more present, we are trespassing -- failing to do the task we are here for. We are supposed to be feeding a different level of consciousness -- not our own, but another one, of which we are a fragment.

A reader in the UK recently asked me whether I felt it was true that men "serve the moon." This is, of course, a premise that is spoken about a good deal in the Gurdjieff work.

My observations about the question, which dovetail quite neatly into this apparently sprawling subject, are as follows:

Gurdjieff made it quite clear in "Beelzebub's tales to his grandson" that man no longer has to serve the moon. The original reason that the organ Kundabuffer was implanted in man was because that at that time in the solar system's history, the consciousness of men was forced, due to unforeseen circumstances in the form of outright mistakes on the part of higher cosmic individuals, to feed the earth's unintended and accidental satellite.

To put it quite bluntly... according to Gurdjieff, mankind got screwed.

The situation was, fortunately, not irretrievable. At a certain point in the evolution of the solar system, men were no longer required for this unhappy purpose, and, as Beelzebub explains, the organ Kundabuffer was removed from man, only to find that its properties had "crystallized" in him, ruining his consciousness for most intents and purposes.

So the teaching is clear enough on this point. We no longer need to serve the moon. Man was released from that debilitating responsibility.

Now, one can argue all one likes about whether or not we still do serve the moon, but my experiences within the foundation over the last 30 years underscore one singular and inescapable fact: in this era, responsible beings in the Gurdjieff Work report that we are now here to serve the earth.

Jeanne De Salzmann used to say that if we do not work, " The planet will go down." More recently, senior inheritors of her tradition -- individuals who spent many years working shoulder to shoulder with her, so to speak -- have remarked that we are here to work "on behalf of humanity."

Our task, in other words, is to turn our attention towards the service of the earth and of mankind. Everyone of us that undertakes the effort of inner work undertakes an effort to serve not only the interests of their own development, but also the health and well-being of a planet which is being relentlessly destroyed by most of our species.

It is, if you will, our own version of the Bodhisattva vow. And we are on an uphill climb, aren't we?

When we examine the relative insanity of our day-to-day lives -- I think most of us would agree, the things that go on in us, and around us, are baffling, delusional, in short, as my Dutch grandmother (a bona fide whacko) used to say, flabbergasting -- it becomes apparent that a great deal of the flailing around within material reality that mankind is engaged in is in total contradiction to any sense whatsoever of consciousness or self.

Mankind's real purpose has nothing to do with the destructive tendencies we engage in. It is, rather, to become much quieter, to touch something more real in ourselves, and to develop a new sense of the sacred. This involves a new valuation from within-- one that treasures an intimacy within the act of living itself.

In those moments of quietness, I begin to see how fragmentary my relationship to my life is. I see a stark contrast between the moments where there is what one would call real feeling, and those moments when I'm numb, inactive, filled with frenzied activity, yet stupidly passive towards any real sense of myself.

As the end of the above quote from Dogen goes,

"... let us therefore practice as though our hair were on fire."

May the living light of Christ discover us.

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