Friday, December 30, 2011

The Universal Octave

In my general ponderings about the enneagram, essence, conscience, and related topics, this morning, my questions came around to an old subject–that is, being-foods in man and the universe.

 Because, as Gurdjieff taught us, man is an accurate model of the universe in miniature, we can readily understand the idea that the universe has three being-foods, just as man does.

It's not difficult to relate man's three being foods to the law of three on the enneagram, and I have done so in this diagram. (click on the link.)  Each type of food, having a different rate of vibration, is appropriate to a different center, whose rate of vibration is at a corresponding speed.

What we see is that each center has a food appropriate to its own work.

 What makes the subject more interesting to me is what happens when we look at the same diagram as applied to the universe. Readers can see this diagram at the following link, which also allows you to interactively toggle back and forth between being-foods of man and being-foods of the universe.

 Readers who have been following my recent musings will know of my essays about the connections between the creation and nature of material reality, the flow of time, and  my consequent inferences about the  relationship between the consciousness of man and the consciousness of God. Let's just say that these subjects are all intimately connected.

 The bottom line here is that the universe, like human beings, feeds on the material around it, and is constructed of it. The law of Trogoautoegocrat– I eat myself– is wholly expressed in the enneagram.

Matter itself–elemental matter–is the first being-food of the universe, the material food of the universe, which represents the initial incarnation of the divine in the flow of material downwards through the rate of creation. It's easy to understand how this works: the physical body, or moving center, of the universe, the vehicle through which all of the universe is expressed, is composed of matter. Matter itself represents the Holy Denying force: energy, emitted from the wholeness of God, manifests itself as its own “I am–I wish to be”– a separate entity from God.

Time is the second being-food of the universe, playing the same role that air plays for man. Gurdjieff said to Ouspensky, " Time is breath– try to understand this.” (In Search Of The Miraculous, P. D. Ouspensky, page 213, Paul H. Crompton Ltd. edition 2004.)  Given that air is, in man, the "food" of intellectual center, let's take a shot at it, presuming that time plays a similar role in the universe.

The intelligence of the universe, its character and everything it knows, develops only through time. It is the progressive and interactive nature of relationship that creates meaning. The intellect of the universe, its ability to see, think, and understand itself, can only be developed by consuming the medium of time. Matter must surrender itself back into God through time: everything submits itself to time, creating its relationship to the second prayer, "Lord have Mercy." (See the diagram at this link for the position of the two prayers on the enneagram.)

The prayer "Lord have Mercy" is located on the diagram at the same place where Time, the Merciless Heropass, acts as the second shock in the universal octave. Time has no mercy... hence the prayer to the Lord to provide it.

The third being-food of the universe is Love.  This force is at the highest rate of vibration, representing the point at which Divine Influence initiates and informs the entire octave of the universe. It corresponds to the food of impressions in man; and indeed, in the essay on the flow of time and its nature (see the above link) it turns out that the consumption of impressions is essential to the identity of Divinity,  in its ongoing effort to know itself fully. This subject is treated in more detail in the essay on Chakras and the Enneagram.

 Anyway, I thought readers would find this line of inquiry interesting. It's far from a complete work; nonetheless, the suggestions are provocative. I have added a complete page of diagrams of various kinds to my Doremishock website so that readers can browse through the iterations of the enneagrams I have created in my various essays without having to read all the ponderous material that accompanies them. (I have to confess that I myself find it painfully difficult to slog through endless pages of esoteric material– an exquisite irony, isn't it? ...Just looking at the pictures should provide an easy browsing experience that won't drive you completely nuts,  and, in some cases, if you truly think about them, you will figure out much of what is said in the essays.)

In summing all of this up, it occurred to me that it's possible to distill Gurdjieff's approach into a very few concise words. The Work consists of the following efforts and responsibilities, each one related to its own position on the enneagram in the law of three:

Always Beginning (note "do")
Always Working (first conscious shock- conscious labor)
Always Giving Back (second conscious shock- intentional suffering)

These three principles, applied throughout the development of any object, event, condition, or circumstance, are what we might call right action.

 There are some further important inferences to draw here from the nature of time, its position on the diagram, and the sorrow of His Endlessness, but they cannot be addressed in this essay, which has more than enough theory in it already.

On a more practical note, it's hardly a theoretical exercise to try and have a conscious impression of the digestion, breathing, and impressions (especially as they may arrive under the influence of forces above the top of the head.) We are always in the midst of taking in all three being-foods.

To be human– to be a man without quotation marks– is to sense this organically.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Essence, Intuition, and Conscience

In the earlier post on conscience, I examined Gurdjieff's contention that conscience was the only undamaged part of man's psyche- an element, furthermore, that embodied attributes of the divine- and that it had submerged (like the continent of Atlantis) into his unconscious.

Conscience is a discriminatory mechanism which in ordinary life- as well as in his attitude towards higher influences- can allow a man to choose what the Buddhists would call "right action."

In late Middle English, the word intuition originally connoted a spiritual insight or immediate spiritual communication; today, we use the word to indicate an instinctive understanding or action. Either way, we can understand intuition as being connected to our submerged conscience. I don't mean this by way of psychic activity, that is, the paranormal sensing of events (as in seeing the future, for example) but rather in the sense of knowing what is right.

Cosmologies without an inherent understanding of, and discrimination between, right and wrong are, in my eyes, next to worthless. The entire text of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson is, by and large, an exhaustive discrimination between right and wrong practices within the sensory range, psychic, and social  manifestations of mankind. There is a right and there is a wrong in Beelzebub's universe; having himself fallen afoul of the borders between right and wrong practice-which, by the way, are determined according to universal cosmological Laws-, he is banished to the solar system to reflect on his transgressions. In the course of things, he uncovers an opportunity to delve further into, perhaps, the same sort of questions that plagued his own misunderstandings, by examining mankind.

The general gist of the book is that humanity has, over the course of thousands of years, lost nearly all of its ability to practice such discrimination in a manner proper for three-brained beings. The one part of his psyche- conscience- that man is yet able to trust lies buried in him- hidden- not participating in his day- to- day life. According to Beelzebub, this part may, with effort, yet become reactivated in man, participating once again in his conscious Being.

Discrimination involves making choices. Every human being is inevitably, as a result of events, circumstances, objects, and relationships, required to make discriminating choices in life. These choices play a role as reconciling factors, mediating the opposing forces he or she encounters. And the whole point of life, according to Gurdjieff, is to learn how to make choices that embody the characteristics of responsible individuals. The five obligolnian strivings emphasize it; Gurdjieff's remarks to Ouspensky about the behavior of tramps and lunatics underscore it.

Conscience- and therefore intuition- play no small part in the awakening of such impulses. As Beelzebub says, per the understandings of the Society of Akhldanns, "Every deed of a man is good in the objective sense if it is done according to his conscience, and every deed is bad if from it he later experiences remorse."

A right attention towards life is necessary; a clarity whereby one sees where one is. Following this, the action of an inner part must come into play. This part is closely connected to essence; essence, as the innermost part of man's psyche, and the one having an ability to make a more direct contact with higher influences, acts wholly in concert with conscience, which has (appropriately) secluded itself in close proximity to essence.

The association makes perfect sense; conscience being a divine impulse, it belongs most properly to that portion of the enneagram circumscribed by the law of three. I thus propose the following addition to yesterday's diagram, placing conscience in the center of the stable triangle described by essence. Conscience must be under divine influence; accordingly, I can't reasonably assign it any other position on the enneagram.

The salient point is that essence, conscience, and intuition have a close relationship to one another. Intuition, moreover, ought to be an essential and spiritual sense of what is right and wrong, not a moral one. Moral choices are only able to describe themselves within the horizontal action of the multiplications and the perimeter of the enneagram. Intuitive, or conscience-based choices, are always born from emanations that originate in higher influences. This is why the folkloric understanding of intuition and its value has always placed it higher on the scale of man's understanding than rational thought, which belongs to a different and subordinate sphere.

Freedom of action involves freedom from the centrifugal force of personality; a cessation of erratic rotation. That rotation must be balanced by the counterweight and shocks of essence. Anchored in an organic state of being, conscience can express itself through the absolute freedom of intuition, which in an unmediated state lacks the capacity for error. So in a sense, when we speak of "being free" and "inner freedom," we speak of being in touch with our native, informed (inwardly formed) intuition, which does not need the interference of the mind to understand or manifest right action.

This capacity, like Zen's "going beyond," transcends action of the conceptual mind and the dualistic formulations of enlightenment and delusion. The intuition of conscience is able to strike a single blow that penetrates to the heart of the matter. Meeting the moment, it knows at once what is needed.

Why do we need attention?

Solely to make it possible for this element of our psyche, acting through essence, to be allowed to discover its rightful expression.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Monday, December 26, 2011

essence and influences

In the last post, I introduced the idea that essence is more able to take in higher influences than personality. Today we'll examine that premise in more detail.

The enneagram is not only able, in one way or another, to define and describe all of Gurdjieff's ideas; it's often the best tool for the task. Referring to my simplified and somewhat conscise diagram of essence and personality, readers will see that essence is related to the law of three, and is connected to influences from a higher level, whereas personality belongs to the circular, or horizontal, rotation of the octave, and is consequently only able to act on this level. (The enneagram represents the intersection of two worlds, and the multiplications represent the movement of energy within a specific horizontal level. See chakras and the enneagram and centers of gravity and and conscious shocks  for more detailed material on the subject.)

Essence, under the influence of a higher "do," is a stable entity- personality is not. Furthermore, essence itself arises in and carries the influences from the level above us. It is, in other words, directly connected to the idea of a "soul," and explains why all infants arrive on the planet with already defined characteristics, which have been instilled in it in its origins at the astral, or planetary, level. Those interested in the ideas surrounding reincarnation (which Gurdjieff disavowed in his writings, but- as I was once told by someone who knew & worked with him personally- actually affirmed in personal exchanges) may begin to intuit more about that question by studying this version of the diagram.

According to my interpretation, the diagram furthermore illustrates that the conscious shocks in man are connected with the action of essence, and that its role in the regulation and development of personality are absolutely... well, essential... if it is to develop a right relationship in its action. Personality, by its nature, has a great deal of centrifugal force, due to the rotating nature of its cycle around the perimeter of the octave. It thus tends to force life outward, away from being, by"throwing off"arriving impressions. Essence, on the other hand, has by its own inward nature an inherent ability to take impressions into a stable center. When Zen masters ask students to know something "in their hara," or gut, they are basically asking that impressions be taken in by essence, rather than toyed with by personality. Essence has a tactile organic quality and an ability to sense which is mostly lacking in personality.

We may hereby infer that conscious labor and intentional suffering are actions of essence, informed (inwardly formed) with the participation of influences from a higher level. No wonder Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that a man's essence must develop- without it, all inner work must inevitably stall.

The three being foods are also connected to the action of essence and the shocks. The first being-food is a physical representation of conscious labor, and the second being-food, air, is connected to the action of intentional suffering. The third being food of impressions is actually a link, in its entirety, to the level above us- which is why, in the right state, taking in very nearly any impression whatsoever, a man is able to sense the sacred nature of existence. The three being foods are, moreover, intimately connected to the action of essence in man, as this version of the enneagram makes clear. Awareness of one's self while one eats or breathes-both essential practices in many spiritual disciplines--are meant to help the development of a deeper connection to essence. Taking in the three being-foods consciously helps essence grow. Need we any clearer explanation of exactly why Gurdjieff wanted his pupils to prepare and eat their food with a right attention? Perhaps not. Let us not forget, furthermore, the central role the preparation and consumption of meals plays in Christ's teaching. There are no coincidences here.

Speaking in broader terms, mankind evolved on the planet specifically to take in impressions of the natural world. These feed both essence and personality in a specific way that ordinary, "manmade" impressions cannot. (Prominent biologists such as Edward O. Wilson have come to the exact same conclusions, albeit via a different route.) Mankind's longstanding and romantic infatuation with impressions of nature is the residual echo of a faint realization that such food is the most important food one can take in. Nonetheless, it does a man little or no good without the right corresponding development in all his parts.

A better connection between the centers can open the body, mind, and emotions to a more immediate and more deeply essential impression of nature. In moments such as this, personality takes a distinct back seat.

  I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Next post, December 28: Essence, Intuition, and Conscience

Saturday, December 24, 2011


An influence is a force that "flows inwards." This relates to the idea, frequently discussed in this blog, that information means that which is inwardly formed.

All of the impressions we take in flow inwards into our bodies, creating an inner solar system- or, if you will, cosmos. So influences can mean, broadly speaking, impressions.

We have little understanding that anything is actually forming within us; because of our inherent abstraction from our organic nature, we don't see how the material that flows into us actually creates us. We somehow take it for granted that we have some kind of mastery over life and its influences, when in fact the exact opposite is true.

A man or woman can choose which influences he will come under. There are higher influences, and lower ones. We can generally see the quality of influences a man, or society, is under by the results. The cathedral at Chartres, for example, is a product of higher influences, as are Beethoven's symphonies, or Leonardo's art. Lower, or horizontal, influences (such as science, which is of extreme utility, but within the sense we're able to understand it, absolutely limited to the horizontal sphere) are unable to produce anything approaching great works of art, literature, or music. Atheism, for all its belligerent bluster, is fundamentally impotent in these areas because of its absolute denial of higher influences- a blind man that doesn't know he is blind. Or, perhaps, merely a bland man- one without any salt in him. The colossal oppressions, depressions, and serial failures of professedly atheist socities such as the Soviet Union underscores how utterly worthless enterprises lacking any higher influences are in the long run.

The most important higher influences within the range of man's world all emanate from the sun. Gurdjieff made it quite clear that sacred, or higher, emanations all operate according to harmonious, or musically consonant, principles as expressed in the law of octaves.

My good friend Richard Lloyd contacted me yesterday to advise me of the following remarkable video at the NASA SOHO site. (click the link.) Readers are encouraged to watch the video at least through the first 1:35, at which time they will see the most remarkable thing: an enneagram representing the way in which the internal musical vibrations of the sun interact. This image does not just "look like" an enneagram: it is an enneagram, albeit upside down.  That is, a scientific analysis of the way internal waves propagate in the sun does indeed follow Gurdjieff's diagram. These waves produce "notes", or vibrations, that reverberate throughout the solar system.

Personality is very poor at taking in influences. Being outwardly formed and outwardly directed, operating on ego at the expense of essence, it has no weight or center of gravity to anchor it. Consequently it gets tossed about in every direction by outside forces. One might call it the source of what is "outformation:" a cacophony of facts, ideas, opinions and premises colliding in a bumper-car arena, where there is a great deal of exciting action, leading absolutely nowhere.

Soon the ride is over and we die.

Essence, on the other hand, is firmly anchored.  If anything at all is inwardly formed, it is formed through, and in, essence. If we examine the enneagram on this point in some more detail, the relationship may become clearer. More on this in the next post.

In the meantime, on this eve of evenings, it is worth or while to consider what influences we are under. Christmas, and Christ himself, symbolize an opportunity for man to intentionally put himself under the highest possible influences, influences, moreover, with a reciprocal relationship to us. These solar influences harmoniously correspond to man's essential wish, and can help us to develop Being. Hence Gurdjieff's Christmas instructions to his pupils to seek Christ, and call Him to us. (See Frank Sinclair's "Without Benefit of Clergy" for a detailed recounting of that instruction.)

The direction Gurdjieff gave was one aimed at inward formation and the development of essence, under the influence of God.

No better aim exists.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

tomorrow's post: essence and influences 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Not Holding On

I recently acquired a new book on Dogen's Genjo Koan– “Three commentaries– including the essential 19th century commentary by Nishiari Bokusan.

Those interested in connections between the Gurdjieff teaching and Dogen's conception of Zen will find this fine book well worth reading. Bokusan's discourse on form and emptiness (pages 34-36) bears, in my eyes, a striking relationship to Jeanne de Salzmann's practice of standing between the inner and the outer– the positioning of the attention in an unattached manner.

Bokusan says, "To selflessly see the inside and outside of the world together as one is Genjo Koan. Here, there is no yardstick with which to measure delusion and enlightenment." (Dogen's Genjo Koan- three commentaries, p. 39, 2011, Counterpoint-Berkeley.)

 It would be tempting to see the material in this book as theoretical, but it just simply isn't. In fact, Bokusan says, “Then what in the world is Genjo koan? First of all, you should get it right down in your hara. This cannot be done solely by thinking. On the other hand, you cannot grasp it without knowing the basic principle. So first I will explain it for the moment in an analytical fashion.”  (ibid, p. 13.)

What Bokusan is saying here is that we have to know this material in our guts, organically. But we begin with the mind, because we must begin there.

What does all of this mean in simple, practical terms?

I want things to be like this, or like that. But things are not "like" anything. Things are just like themselves. Each event, condition, circumstance, and object has an essential nature that belongs exclusively to it, and is already whole.

My disjointed inner connections fail to perceive that: when the centers don't work together properly, each one divides the whole world into its own slice of pie. But the world is not a slice of pie; it is a whole pie, and no matter how many tiny slices of it you make, all of them are just pie.

There isn't any reason to hold on to life. It comes and it goes, and it is always here. Inhabiting life involves standing between Being and not Being. This is, in a way, one of the points of the first three brief paragraphs of the Genjo Koan.

I think I am going to get rid of something in order to become whole; get rid of my delusions, get rid of my personality, what have you. If I obtain a spiritual paring knife, and I peel off all the bad parts, there will be a pure and good "me" that emerges (if there's anything left.) This delusion arises naturally from an essential lack of love of Self and an essential dissatisfaction with Self; if I have no respect for Self, I have no respect for God.  Whatever there is is already here. Respect that.

Existence and non-existence of this and that have nothing to do with the Buddha Dharma; it is not a question of existence or nonexistence, it is always a question of relationship. When I see material–for example, a ladle over the stove, or a flower–I think I am seeing a ladle or a flower, but I am seeing relationships. Ladles and flowers are complete expressions of relationship, and completely represent the arising and existence of relationship. Moreover, I am not seeing relationship; I am actually just relationship within relationship. There is no separation between relationship and relationship. We are all together here in a single complete expression of the Dharma.

The position I am in is constantly moving and requires constant examination. I don't come from anywhere, and I don't get anywhere; I am perpetually here, poised within this flow of events, yet in some peculiar way not connected to them in any immediate fashion. My manifestation has no material substance; it is not grounded. It is an abstraction. Why is this so? I need to keep asking myself that.

Gurdjieff made much of the difference between essence and personality. In his eyes, modern man was far too absorbed in personality; certainly, our media culture reinforces that impression.  If we were going to simplify the question, we might say that personality is a product of the outer nature of man, and essence is a product of his inner nature.

Essence, unlike personality, has the capacity to be here now. It is not a quality of definition and division; it is a quality of sensation and substance. Essence knows that it is alive, and participating; it inhabits. Every time my own sense of essence begins to predominate, the sense of gravity within life increases. Here and now is a location to be inhabited, not a premise to theorize about.

 We need both essence and personality; and we need a balance between them. Dogen's Buddha Dharma most certainly touches on the question of the balance between these two qualities, even if he uses a different language to express it.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Friday, December 16, 2011

One condition

Finding ourselves in the midst of life, in moments of greater lucidity, we see that there seem to be many conditions. The nature of life itself, which is much like a blossom with an endless series of unfolding petals, encourages us to believe this.

Really, there is only a single condition.

It's very difficult to see this. The nature of ego as we inhabit it naturally obscures it.

Because we have capabilities and are capable, we continually see ourselves as capable. We see ourselves as ones with power, ones who know something; teachers. Everyone falls into this trap as they live in the midst of their life.

The one condition that we fail to see is that we are all, perpetually, students. This single condition of life is here for us to become a student within it. There are no exceptions to this. Christ was a student; Mohammed was a student. Even the star pupils are students when they arrive in this condition of life. (Readers of Gurdjieff's "Beelzebubs Tales To His Grandson" will recall that every personal representative sent by His Endlessness to determine what was necessary for mankind first had to become a student of his conditions.)
The absolute condition of life itself, from its beginning to its end, is the teacher. Every condition, circumstance, human being, animal, and plant that we encounter is a part of the lesson.

Why is this?

We come here as individual, tiny, particulate representatives of the consciousness of God, which is eternally curious. God is unable to see His creation at the level we are able to see it. This is much like the case with cells; a cell in our bloodstream, for example, can see exactly what is needed within its own environment, but we are unable to. Yet the cell is undoubtedly a part of us, and is doing work on our behalf. It is studying its conditions at its own level, and perpetually learning to respond to them appropriately within its own conditions.

God's own search for awareness, a question treated elsewhere in this blog, causes us to become a living representative of his search.
Each one of us is hence a fragment of that Great Consciousness, seeking to educate itself about its own nature. The Great Nature of God understands that it needs to be educated. It understands that it is forever a student of itself; God is making an effort Himself to remember Himself, and we are the representatives of that effort.

This confers an enormous responsibility on us, because only a humility at the highest possible level will allow us to participate in this work. We are the receivers of God's lessons. In the religions, it is often said that God is teaching us through life; but what is actually happening on a metaphysical level is that God is teaching Himself. When a man truly realizes this, he "becomes" God... but perhaps, initially, only in the limited sense that he finally understands that he is an eternal student.

To become self-aware is to discover that we are part of the receiving nature of God. We are here to receive life; only in the measure to which we receive life openly and take it in deeply are we acting as the student we should be.

This life we receive is only for the edification of God. We do not live for ourselves; nor does life belong to us. Nor are we mere "representatives of" God; we are all, in our own microcosmic way, particles of God Himself seeking the truth of His own creation.

It's quite a different attitude to go through life and to suddenly see the process of impressions inverted in this way. Suddenly, I am not here to impart my wisdom to others; I am here only to witness, to hear their own wisdom. My question becomes a question of active attitude and active responsibility, not just a question of "what's going on here?" Curiosity, in other words, is not enough. Curiosity is a good beginning, but it is too idle to work. I need to see that. And above all, I need to constantly see the other as a teacher. Not just the other, but the totality of life, conditions, events, and circumstances.

The whole process of "listening,", which appears to have something to do with how I hear things, expands to become something much larger. It is a new kind of attention to life with a different attitude and understanding about exactly what is taking place, and it converts the process of ego, turns it upside down.

The ego generally points outward. Because of this – because it appears to be the local cause of our difficulties, spiritually speaking – we presume that we should become free of it. Actually, this cannot be the case, because it is generally impossible to become free of ego. What must change is our relationship to it. The ego must be turned around so that it points inward. This is probably one of the meanings that Gurdjieff had in mind when he referred to "conscious egoism."

An ego that points inwards towards the center of the soul begins to learn that it is a student. If I can see this for even one moment in my life, already, the entire question of life has completely changed.

That change cannot be intellectual. It must become organic.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Metropolitan Museum of Art collection

This morning, I was thinking about the idea of conscience, which Gurdjieff considered to be the only undamaged part of man's psyche.

The dictionary defines conscience as an inner feeling or voice which serves as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of behavior. Gurdjieff's understanding of the word does not appear to be that different, but a close examination of his treatment of the concept in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson is well worthwhile.

 The first place where we encounter the idea is on page 175, where he mentions that the priest Abdil– one of his early true friends on earth– did not have the property of conscience completely atrophied in him. The result, as Gurdjieff explains it, was that he was compassionate and sensitive to the beings around him.

We encounter the idea for the second time on page 184, where the awareness of conscience may allow men to observe the eighteenth commandment of our common creator: “love everything that breathes.”

 Moving further into the text, on page 282, he mentions that the emblem of the Society of Akhldanns  in the city of Samlios  was a statue referred to as Conscience. Among its many unusual properties, its head, remarkably, was "in the form of the breasts of a virgin, meaning that "love" should predominate always and in everything during the inner and outer functionings evoked by one's consciousness..."

 Lastly– at least for the purposes of this essay– the critical evaluation that the Very Saintly Ashieta Shiemash delivered under the title “The Terror of the Situation” definitively concluded that the only hope for correcting man's psychological aberrations was to allow the functioning of sacred conscience to pass from the subconscious, where some portion of it was still intact, into the functioning of man's ordinary consciousness.

I draw some distinct conclusions of my own from this very brief recap. (In point of fact, before writing this essay, I searched through the entire text of Beelzebub and extracted every significant explanation about the nature and action of conscience from the text–with some admittedly subjective editing, the document ran to over twenty pages long.)

 From the beginning, we see that objective conscience, the only sacred feature still undamaged in man's psyche  (submerged in the subconscious though it may be) is essentially connected to a quality of feeling that involves compassion. It is, also, inextricably intertwined with the idea that it evokes a feeling of what we might call objective love. The point is, once again, that love in one form or another is an essential quality in Gurdjieff's work. Far from failing to mention love, he links it directly to the only portion of man's being which might still function properly.

Man has, in other words, the potential to discover an objective love within him.

 These statements in Beelzebub underscore the essential similarities between Gurdjieff's work, the Buddhist practice of compassion, and the Christian and Sufic understanding of love. Readers will recall that according to Gurdjieff, the Buddha himself introduced the idea of  “intentional suffering,” an idea bearing more than a passing relationship to the question of remorse of conscience.

The connections between compassion, love, and conscience are, in my experience, rarely discussed in the Gurdjieff work, despite the fact that the essential nature of our inner work must inevitably be to awaken the roots of conscience and allow them to participate in our ordinary being. What else are we attempting, if not this? If we are not repeatedly and ever more deeply humbled by the action of conscience, we are not working– not in any sense. This is a question that every single human being in any spiritual work ought to be holding in front of them at every moment of their lives– and yet it is so easily dismissed.

 There is no instant of such dismissal in which egoism has not triumphed over conscience.

 This holds true more than anything for those in the Gurdjieff work, who profess to follow his ideas, and yet so often blithely ignore them in almost every routine action we undertake.

It's not that difficult to see when I lack. It is possible– in point of fact, if there is any real impulse to work, it is not even possible– it is probable.

 One is left with the prospect that what is actually going on is that I do not want to see.

 And this is why it was referred to as The Terror of the Situation.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Death and the Devil

This is a picture of my father, taken at my sister's funeral.

Death is much on my mind lately. We are so asleep, we rarely remember that we are on a planet, with all of the extraordinary implications that carries. We certainly don't sense our own death: death is a theoretical prospect at best. Oh, we pretend we know death is always near us; but the fragility, the temporary nature, of life is almost invariably unseen.

I'm sick this weekend, which has presented an unpleasant struggle; in the few moments I've felt OK and my fever was down, I've had to run a few brief errands, because my wife Neal isn't at home this weekend. (Lucky me... or, as it happens, lucky her!) Just tonight I was standing in the driveway, in the first real chill air of the winter, looking up at Jupiter- which has been a prominent presence in the night sky of late- and thinking to myself that I won't be here on this planet forever, able to take in that impression.

I felt it in my body.

It gave the impression a weight and value, a taste- an inner sound- that it wouldn't have had without that pithy, organic realization. I'm not here forever.

Getting intimate with the devil can mean, among other things, getting intimate with death. The devil, they say, is in the details; the devil is in my flesh, my bones.  These are the details for man. Maybe the "devil" actually is material reality itself: that is certainly the implication we encounter when we see Christ's temptation in the desert. Everything the devil offered him was of this earth, material. Our temptation arises from the carnal; and yet we do not know it well, this flesh of ours, although we are called to.

How often do I dare to truly sense what I am? Not with the mind–that's too easy.  Thinkers think about what we are all the time. It is never enough. I mean to sense my existence with my feelings and my body, to truly sense the intensity of vibration that causes flesh, blood, bone and marrow to hang together. The encounter with sensation is, in some cases, an encounter with the presence of death itself. It is also, paradoxically, the encounter with the astral body. The actual sensation of self as a living thing is connected to the astral body, born of what Gurdjieff would have called Hanbledzoin. Sensation actually takes a certain kind of courage; I'd rather turn from it and sleep.

 This sensation, as has been explained at length in other essays, is directly connected to breathing. It is almost pointless to engage in any kind of a "breathing exercise” (something astute followers of the Gurdjieff method will know he generally forbade) that does not begin with an understanding that the aim of being attentive to breath is to develop a permanent connection to sensation.

This is where mortality begins. It is also where the inner sense of gravity arises. In the last set of essays, I examined the question of the moon– which helps to anchor us– and the devil, which is the mortal and material expression of life which we must become intimate with in order to know anything about what we are.

Our anchor is not an intellectual premise, and our carnality is not an intellectual premise. Yet without a real inner work, we cannot encounter either one of these forces that regulate our inner solar system.

If these things are just ideas, there have not been enough shocks. Martin Benson points out, in the very fine book “Martin Benson speaks,” that a man cannot actually do anything without shocks. We need to be shocked. We need to be shattered. This is the only way that we may begin to let something new enter us that changes the dire situation we are in.

Benson says you can't go out and get shocks; life needs to deliver them. In my own experience, that's true. We are all far too comfortable, and it is only when we encounter the great shocks that something softens and real forces may begin to penetrate us.

Those are the moments when pondering becomes more than this armchair exercise of the mind, and begins to rest in the sensation of the flesh and the feeling of question, rather than the idea of question.

 I'm accustomed to having my mind ask questions. I am good at it. I show off at it when I am around others. Yet the body can also ask questions, and the feeling can also ask questions. These are the questions that need to be brought into the moment, because the questions that the body and the feeling ask are not connected to all of these words, forms, ideas, and concepts.

They are not subject to argument.

 In this era when investments go bad everywhere, the one investment that can be relied on is an investment in one's Being. To invest means to clothe, to be clothed in. So we need to invest in our carnality, and our feeling– our inner life, the sensation of ourselves. To be clothed in the sensation of self is the beginning of knowing that one lives, and that one will die. The only way I know that in my mind is as a theory.

This practice of sensing is the one way I know of to begin to understand this question differently.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Devil Within Us

As I mentioned last week, in Dante's Inferno, Dante and Virgil have to climb over the body of the Devil in order to enter Purgatory– the place where sins can be expiated.

Traditionally, the Devil represents not only sin, but materiality–that is to say carnal existence. This is because carnal existence and sin are, at least in Christian conception, inextricably intertwined.

The act of climbing over the Devil's body is, above all, an act of intimacy. The symbolic implication of Dante's vision is that before he can even begin to work to attain salvation, man must become directly intimate with his material nature, his carnal nature, his sinful nature.

The premise presents a striking contradiction to any routinely moralistic understanding. Dante's image– more than a little sophisticated for its era– eschews any predictable religious expectations of abstinence. Rather than avoiding our sinful nature, the inference is that we must be in close touch with it and see it.

 Taking sin in the broader Augustinian context of everything we do–in St. Augustine's conception, our nature is inherently sinful, because of our separation from God–we must come into intimate contact with everything we do, with ourselves as we are, in the world, in order to begin to approach a place where the expiation of sin becomes possible. So above all, we have to be what we are, not create a construction of “goodness” in our behavior which will gain us merit. If we are bad, we have to be bad: but above all, however we are, we need to become aware of it, to see it. It is the awareness of our nature, regardless of its character, that earns us a place in purgatory.

And this is, in Gurdjieff's cosmology, a specific kind of awareness: not an intellectual awareness, but an awareness that in itself is intimate, comprised as it is of awareness in the body, awareness in the mind, and awareness in the emotions - what Gurdjieff referred to as “three centered being.”

 Pondering the commingling of the soul with matter is an inevitability in religious cosmologies, which generally propose dualistic explanations: either Augustinian, i.e., tragic (as in the case of original sin) or Dionysian, ecstatic, when the incarnation of material existence is seen as a reason for sublime joy. Both of these theological propositions achieve their substantiality through their inherent partiality. (I rarely, if ever, touch on politics in these posts, but one might cogently argue that the tension between conservative and liberal forces in the world is essentially a product of the long-standing tension between competing Augustinian and Dionysian philosophies.)

In Gurdjieff's involutionary and evolutionary universe, incarnation is, conversely, an objective necessity. There is no overt need to reject it or affirm it; it is the inevitable consequence of creation, and must be interpreted not in terms of good or bad, but in terms of service. It is not, in other words, a matter of state requiring action, but of action as a consequence of state. One does not work to be good–or to be bad. One simply works in order to be. And Being does not emanate from duality, but can only be resolved through Trinity.

 The ideas of good and evil are treated at some length in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson. Gurdjieff's discourse (see pages 1034-1046) indicates that the original conception of good and evil was originally meant to describe the involutionary and evolutionary movement of energy–downwards through the ray of creation to the manifestation of “I am,” or, conscious separation from God (the prime source of arising), and back upwards towards the prime source through the action of surrender–“Lord have mercy.” Good and evil, in other words, originally had nothing to do with an external agency of better or worse moral nature that acts on man.

Man is, in this cosmology, entirely responsible for all of his action- an important point of the parable about Makary Kronbernkzion. “The Devil made me do it” is a worthless excuse, unless one admits that one is, himself, the Devil.

How often do we ascribe  the blame for our emotional state to outside agencies? Based on my recent observations of myself, I would say, nearly always. There is the possibility for an inner action wherein the usual reaction of emotion is transcended by an action of feeling; yet this is rare.

Only an unrelenting inner contact with the truth of the situation might serve to convince me of the fact that I am like this. I have to climb over the body of my own inner Devil, come into contact with all of its parts, in order to know that I am indeed the Devil.

It would be terribly mistaken to interpret this as any kind of moral license. Climbing over the body of one's inner devil is an organic action of intimacy, not a psychological exercise or an excuse for licentious behavior. It involves coming directly to terms with the inescapable, carnal fact of one's organic existence– and is intimately tied to Gurdjieff's idea of a man needing to perpetually sense the inevitability of his own death.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Next post (12/11): Death and the Devil

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Serving the moon

The place of the moon in Gurdjieffian cosmology and mythology cannot be underestimated. It plays a central role in the downfall of man's psyche.

Among the many hundreds of references to the moon in his various works,  in 1924 in New York, Gurdjieff said the following:

"The moon is man's big enemy. We serve the moon. Last time you heard about kundabuffer. Kundabuffer is the moon's representative on earth. We are like the moon's sheep, which it cleans, feeds and shears, and keeps for its own purposes. But when it is hungry it kills a lot of them. All organic life works for the moon. Passive man serves involution; and active man, evolution. You must choose. In both cases we are slaves, but there is a principle: in one service you can hope for a career; in the other you receive much but without a career. In both cases we have a master. Inside us we also have a moon, a sun and so on. We are a whole system. If you know what your moon is and does, you can understand the cosmos."
(Views From The Real World, page 198, E. P. Dutton 1975)

 It is of course impossible to boil even a fraction of what Gurdjieff said about the moon into a single essay. We can, however, investigate just a few points.

First of all, as was pointed out in a comment on this blog a week or two ago, the root Sanskrit word "Kunda" has direct associations with both the moon and with feminine nature, fecundity, receptivity. An organ– or action– that buffers this might be construed as something that blocks that which is received. In a general sense, it prevents insemination.

In order to understand Gurdjieff's comment more thoroughly, it's necessary to understand that in his ray of creation, both in evolutionary and evolutionary forces are at work. Energy descends from the sun, passes through the shock of organic life on earth, and moves on to the moon as the end of the involutionary process. This is the stage at which man “feeds” the moon in Gurdjieff's cosmology. A widespread assumption appears to be that this is the whole and the end of the matter.

What is overlooked is that inevitably, there must also be an evolutionary force that begins with the moon and moves upwards, back towards its original source; the ray of creation allows for no other possibility; the movement of evolutionary energy is directly incorporated into Gurdjieff's Enneagram, where the right side may be said to represent involution, and the left evolution.

Hence the comments about how an active man can serve evolution. You will notice that even in this case, a man is still a “slave;” and he still serves the moon, although in a different capacity than in the involutionary phase. An active man serves the moon in the evolutionary phase as the energy moves back towards the absolute.

This means that in the evolutionary phase of the solar system octave, man receives energy from the moon and passes it upwards, rather than feeding the moon with energy of his own. In other words, we might suggest that an active man is able to turn the moon not into an enemy, but a provider.

It is in understanding the entire circulation of the energy system that we begin to understand Gurdjieff's cosmology, not just an understanding about the downward movement of energy. Just as man receives energy from higher sources in order to do his inner work, so he can– and also must– receive energy from sources below him and pass them onwards in order to work.

Above all, we might say that organic life on earth in general, and man in particular, serve as stewards in the circulation of energy.  Because the moon was created by accident, a great deal of extra energy needed to be sent to it to support it in its initial phases of development. This energy had to come from organic life on earth, particularly man; and because he was going to have to give all of what he was in his existence to an entity that was unable, at the time, to reciprocally feed him, it was a one-way exchange. This is why the organ kundabuffer was originally implanted in man; heavenly forces understood that beings forced, so to speak, to serve involuntarily in such an exchange would feel despair, and refuse to do the necessary work. The only way to get this horse to move forward was to put blinders on it.

 In Beelzebub's Tales, Beelzebub explains that it is no longer necessary for man to serve the moon in the way that was needed when the organ kundabuffer was created. The removal of the organ kundabuffer made it possible for man once again to receive the beneficial and inseminating evolutionary emanations from the moon;  in this way, it was possible for the law of reciprocal feeding to once again act normally on earth.

Of course, Beelzebub expounds ad infinitum about why this natural process continues to be frustrated, even up to the present day.

Misconceptions about the exact nature of man's relationship with the moon continue to confuse the issue. For example, we need the moon; without it, organic life on earth would not exist, a point made by biologists, who advise us that the stabilizing effect of the moon's gravity prevents fluctuations in the earth's rotation which would cause earth's climate to be unpredictable and erratic. The moon is, in other words, a vital "anchor" for life on earth.

Understanding the moon in the context of its anchoring role and the nature of the circulation of inner energy may help shed light on some of our lunar questions. In addition, readers who follow the link to descriptions of the Sanskrit meanings of the phonetic components of Kunda will find a rich source of associations which illustrate just how appropriate the word is to this question.

 Perhaps it's peculiar that Gurdjieff referred to the moon as man's “big enemy.” In one sense, this is absolutely true; if a man is asleep, unconscious, the moon takes his energy and nothing more need be said about the matter.

However, as the passage from Views intimates, a man who makes a conscious effort to take his place in the ray of creation will discover that that energy consciously used to support the cosmos- whether inner or outer- is returned to him in a different way.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Next post (12/9): The Devil Within Us

Monday, December 5, 2011

On The Nature Of Truth

Plate with Pseudo-Arabic inscriptions
Spain, 14th century
Metropolitan Musuem of Art (On loan from Hispanic Society of America, NY)

It's commonly agreed that  a spiritual search is a search for Truth.   The ragtag band of adventurers who set out through the remote parts of Asia to discover hidden esoteric knowledge in the late part of the nineteenth century, of which Gurdjieff was a member, referred to itself as the "Seekers of Truth."

 Today I am going to introduce and discuss a fundamental concept in relationship to the nature of truth.

 Everything is true, within the limits of its own range. 

 Those familiar with Gurdjieff's  autobiography, “Meetings With Remarkable Men,” may remember the story of the Yezidi boy. Gurdjieff repeated this tale, which is actually a parable of sorts, because it bears on this particular question.

He reports as follows: "if a circle is drawn around a Yezidi, he cannot of his own volition escape from it. Within the circle he can move freely, and the larger the circle, the larger the space in which he can move, but get out of it he cannot. Some strange force, much more powerful than his normal strength, keeps him inside... if a Yezidi is forcibly dragged out of the circle, he immediately falls into the state called catalepsy..." (Meetings With Remarkable Men, p. 65, E.P. Dutton and Company, Inc., New York 1963.) 

This isn't really a story about a primitive superstitious tribesman.  It is a story about us, as we are, and the nature of identification– or, as the Buddhists might call it, attachment. It represents an inner action in man.

 We are all victims of our own view about the truth. Truth exists in a continuum, which consists of all and everything– everything that is. There is no thing that is not true, as it arises and exists, within the limits of its own range. Falsehood itself is true within the range of its own falsehood. A lie lives within the truth of its own lie. There is, in other words, a totality of manifestation within which all that takes place is true. Delusional beliefs are absolutely true for those in the grip of delusion, and this is the story of the Yezidis.

 I draw a circle around myself with the truths that I have, those that lie within my range of understanding. Anything that comes from outside that range, that circle, paralyzes me. I am asleep to it, catatonic, and unable to move once I come under its influence. My understanding and my ability to act lie only within the limited circle of "truth" which is drawn around me.

I identify with the beliefs that I have. I think that they "are" me... that my truths are true, and the truths of others are false. I'm not able to see that everything is true. So I react to the things I think are not true.

 Even more to the point, perhaps, in the book, someone else draws the circle. So I am not even living within the circle of my own truth: I am living within the circle of what is circumscribed by external influences. If it were my own circle of truth, I might have some power over it; but it doesn't belong to me.

Within the horizontal range of manifestation,  I am absolutely convinced that it's necessary for me to live within this circle in the sand and even defend it... at least I think it is. All of our culture and society is constructed on this idea. And it is indeed connected to the action of egoism, but not the action of conscious egoism, which is a healthy affirmation of Being. It is the action of what one might call negative egoism, denying egoism, which stakes its existence on the premise that there is only one circle.

Philosophies and religions draw larger circles, but they are still circles. Any astute student of these disciplines will notice that no matter how expansive a religious practice or philosophy becomes, it reaches a point where it breaks down and cannot explain one phenomenon or another. For example, the religious or moral principle that one must always unerringly tell the truth breaks down if you are a Dutch family during the second world war hiding Jews in your attic, and the Nazis come pounding on your door to ask you if you have any Jews up there... this is not in the least a hypothetical example. There are many situations like this in real life. A trip the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam can serve as a compelling reminder.

This principle of encirclement, which is in some ways an action that defines the ego, or the “I am” of any given system, can be seen acting on the level of solar systems and galaxies. Each one exists within the range of its own circle, and has its own complete truth within that range. So the phenomenon takes place on every level. 

The action itself is both healthy and necessary, but a belief in the action as exclusive– which is how ego in human beings manifests– is pathological.

The idea of the Dharma as an all-encompassing, or transcendental, truth that is irrevocable and fundamental, superseding the act of encirclement– and thus, by definition, affirming what we might call “freedom,” or, inner action unconstrained by encirclement– is an idea common, in one way or another, to every religion. The idea, however, requires that we surrender our idea of the circle. As with the Yezidi tribesmen, our own idea of the circle is delusional–it is an artificial construct, a fantasy. Outsiders scratch their head in bafflement as to why the Yezidi can't break out of the circle, which is clearly an imaginary entity. 

To remember that everything is true within the limits of its own range is actually an active stance that brings us to the threshold of compassion. 

When we speak of self re-membering, we speak of reattaching the limbs of the self– putting its members back together. The self has limbs, arms and legs, which can allow it to move outside the circle, but they aren't connected. The self must recall that it has them, and know that there is a circle; furthermore, it must understand that the circle, although it is clearly there in the sand around it, is imaginary and limited.

 The man who sees he stands within his own circle and is helpless invokes the prayer, “Lord have Mercy”–because, like the Yezidi, only the agency of an outside force which is able to see the circle can help him break free.  

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The coral reef

One hears a lot about “special conditions”–about how one needs to be in special conditions to do real spiritual work, how one has to be in a community, at a retreat, in the Dharma Hall meditating, what have you.

This idea is useful up to a point. Then it goes past the point and ultimately begins to miss it entirely.

Life itself is special conditions. It is, in fact, so special that it doesn't last forever. We die. So life is very special indeed.

Life is the condition in which we work. The community is everyone we know. The inner work is every relationship we engage in.

We might think of it like a coral reef. We are all organisms on a coral reef in this life; it is an incredibly varied place, with tens of thousands of different habitats, countless encounters, impressions flowing in like plankton on a current: rich food everywhere to feed on. The coral reef is complicated and complex and unpredictable. So much so that it can seem scary. There are sharks here; there are Moray eels and octopi.

So we take some special, wonderful fish out of a coral reef, grab a few sponges, some dead coral, and put it all in an aquarium of our own design. The aquarium is manageable! It's nice and quiet in here; a little air bubbles into the water, a fake plastic treasure chest opens and closes alluringly.  There is a diver next to it in a little suit... mysterious, isn't he? Delicious food is sprinkled just within reach.

It looks like a real coral reef– and it is hypnotically interesting. But it is really just a beautiful trap from which it is nearly impossible to escape.

We can't allow our  inner work to become an aquarium, yet this is what seems to happen. There is this conviction that inner work can be put in a bell jar, isolated from life, plunked down on a cushion in the meditation hall, and that this is where "it" really happens. That concept is utter nonsense.

Where it really happens is out here in the ordinary world, where a thousand uncomfortable situations rub up against me. This is where I need my attention. This is where I need my sensation. This is where I need to experience an emotional relationship. Yes, I need to work with others; but the "others" are not the special people that I selected– or that selected me– to work around me in the aquarium. The others aren't the members of the aquarium.

The others are every event, every other fish, every circumstance on the coral reef.

I have to believe in my own life and believe that it is real enough to find the value in it; not in the abstractions of a philosophy or the controlled conditions of a magical teaching.  I need to live it and breathe it– I can't afford to turn it into a museum display or quotation society, where everything is taken out of context and printed up a nice little books to read and discuss. The ideas and the books are good; yet they are always out of context, because the only context they can ever exist within is the book. The ideas themselves were, before they got squashed between two covers on a series of thin little pages, living things out on the coral reef.

If I begin to mistake the things squashed onto the page as the actual organisms on the coral reef, well, one can see how delusional I am right away, can't one? Yet I like to live that way. Really, it's much easier than being on that damned reef.

 So I think it's useful to do away with the idea of special conditions–do away with it, that is, by understanding that all of the conditions, every moment, are special; that every moment is a potential moment for relationship, and that the questions that need to be asked cannot be steered and mediated through committees in small rooms.

They need to be out there in the current, intelligent, sensitive, and  moving constantly in order to feed on all the rich material that keeps sweeping past me.

 To draw an analogy from less watery territory: any alcoholic could tell you, it's the easiest thing in the world to not drink when you're sitting in an AA meeting. But that isn't worth a damn. The place you have to not drink is outside the meeting. The meeting is just there to prepare you.

It's what happens in real life that matters.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Rosette bearing the names and titles of the Shah Jahan
Folio of the Shah Jahan Album: India, Mughal, c. 1645
Metropolitan Museum of Art Islamic Collection 

The word “compassion” means, originally, to “suffer with.”

To suffer means, among other things, to allow. The Latin root suggests it means to carry from underneath, or support. (sub- 'from below' + ferre 'to bear.)

 So when we have compassion, it means to be with, to help support, to carry from below. In its context of allowing, it also implies a willingness to be with things as they are. It furthermore implies an emotional fortitude and an emotional endurance–compassion is not a practice for the weak.

 We are all, collectively, weak, and yet we often speak of compassion.

We find ourselves scattered in our own weakness, and see that we are helpless. We go on to find ourselves together in weakness, and recognize that. Suffering together– bearing the weight of this life and the difficulty of it– we form a community which, if it is in good health, recognizes the need for mutual support...  unfortunately, communities are not always healthy, and compassionate support is not always offered.

Compassion cannot be an outward quality first. And it can't be a materialistic quality, because just giving people things to help them– for example, offering people food, or water, or money when they need it– is not enough.  In the concentration camp of Auschwitz during the Second World War, Viktor Frankl noted that there were cases he saw where people died not because they were starving, but of despair.

There has to be a wish; there has to be an emotional impulse from within that is stronger than external circumstances.  This kind of wish is what kept people in the camps alive. That wish must be enduring; and weak people don't have enduring qualities. This is possibly why compassion fails in ordinary conditions; it's only in extraordinary conditions, extremes, where human beings are so utterly exposed to their weakness that they surrender and thereby discover real inner strength.

This may all sound like a Buddhist soliloquy; or, it may just sound like a rehash of all the old stories about compassion. But it is actually a question both of the cosmos and of individual life.

Scrolling back to the last post on this site, we can infer– and it is even possible, under the right conditions, to actually sense– that the universe was created in a compassionate act. This is, in fact, at the heart of Beelzebub's story about His Endlessness. The machine of the universe was created as a machine of feeling– an emotional bridge, a moving bridge– to reconcile what one might call God's thought, and the material of time, the contradictory affirming and denying principles of existence.

So the universe itself is love, it is compassion–it is a machine that supports from below. Every level is obliged to work to support the whole structure.

We are perhaps reminded of Dante's Divine Comedy,  in which heaven is a divine structure, built on the support of the many levels moving upwards from Hell and through Purgatory. Dante cannot reach Purgatory before moving all the way through Hell, finally traversing the body of the Devil Himself, who is upside down, until he and Virgil emerge, metaphorically speaking, as pieces of excrement– nothingness, that which has been thrown away– in order to even begin the work of purgatory, a great purging of sin that may lead to heaven... if one's suffering is accepted

We should note that, oddly, Gurdjieff indicated that Buddha did not say man should become free of suffering: he said that he should intentionally suffer. In other words, the inner work of suffering–and let us have no doubt, it is an inner work we speak of here– is a necessary work and a burden to be shouldered, not an event to escape from. This is the central theme of Dante's purgatory: a realm of intentional suffering, in which the sinners are grateful for the burdens they bear.

It is not abstract, because we find ourselves in this very moment at a point of emotional opening that is required in life. Our awareness– our consciousness– our feeling awareness must become awakened.  We must see where we are, we must see our weakness, and we must acknowledge our nothingness– all absolute themes in Gurdjieff's teaching, and, furthermore, at the core practice for almost every major religion.

If I acknowledge my own helplessness, perhaps then I am moved to a compassionate attitude towards myself.  This acknowledgment cannot be an intellectual acknowledgment. It must be an organic acknowledgment, one that penetrates to the marrow of the bones.

Acknowledging my weakness, suffering– allowing– my own weakness, I begin to understand that I am not in charge of anything, and that I don't control anything. The inflated balloon of the ego begins to sag rather quickly when this process takes place, turning into a sorry puddle of plastic. I may discover, when that happens, that there is actually very little else there, except the daily experience of life... which turns out to be deeper and more glorious than the colorful Thanksgiving day parade I have zealously been keeping inflated for most of my life.

  Compassion that begins at home, in an inner work, is quite different than compassion that is outwardly directed. Tolerance and generosity towards the inevitable sin and the weakness of my own nature is a beginning. This doesn't mean that I excuse my iniquities; absolutely not. I participate with them: I'm not going to be able to change them much, I'm not strong. I suffer them. I see how I am.

I see. I see. I see.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


While chatting about time (which is seemingly the subject of the week, or perhaps month, or even year) this evening, a delightful irony occurred to me.

I've spoken before about the fact that Gurdjieff's God was not a God of unlimited power. He has, for example, no absolute control over time. Yet, even though time brings an end to everything (a fact which Gurdjieff's name for it, the Merciless Heropass, alludes to) he chose to refer to God as His Endlessness throughout Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson. Not only did he do this, but he introduced a cosmology in which God creates the universe because time is eroding the substance of his place of existence. The obvious inference is that this could bring God to an end.

So here we have a God referred to as His Endlessness, confronted with an even greater force that appears to be able to bring about His Ending. This strikes me as an exquisite and intentional irony: and no accident on the part of Gurdjieff. The very foundation of his cosmology itself was deliberately planted in dualistic thinking on the grandest of all possible scales: endlessness, or infinity, and zero, or, the erosion and disappearance of everything that infinity relies on in order to manifest.

Trapped between the Scylla and Charybdis  of His Most Holy Eminence's absolute endlessness and the ultimate, Heropassian threat of nothingness,  God is forced to create a universe: a third force that mediates between the two original opposing forces. The universe, moreover, is not just a static object: it is a series of events in motion, a relationship.

Or, if you will (and Gurdjieff also says this) a machine.

This relationship is, furthermore, a force based on awareness. The very act of awareness itself, the act of seeing, is already the whole force that sustains and extends the life of the universe. (Are we asked to subscribe to the anthropomorphic principal? Au contraire; because it isn't all about man. The very matter of the universe is a mediator of consciousness in and of itself; consciousness permeates it at every level.)

 In other words, the universe is third force. Material reality and its expression of consciousness is third force. To say that mankind is “third force blind” is to say that man does not understand his relationship to material reality and his own expression of consciousness. Instead of living within, of inhabiting, his awareness, he stands outside of it, in a peculiar separation from his natural place and state.

Jeanne de Salzmann was famous for asking pupils to see their lack. In doing so,  what does our existence consist of, and where is our attention located in it? We have thought: the intellect, the thinking center; and we have matter, the material world, the “body” of the universe. We are usually just stuck in our thoughts. Or, we are gratifying the pleasures of the flesh, and what needs to take place is stopped in our bodies. The mind and the body–thought and matter–do not come together. Even if they do, something is missing; there ought to be a glue that holds all of this together, but it's not there.

What is it?

The driver shows up and climbs onto his carriage; but there is no horse. It has wandered off. The driver, impressed with his carriage, doesn't spend much time thinking about the fact that it can't go anywhere without a horse. After all, it's one terrific carriage.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that what is lacking is feeling. The sensitivity of emotion that could connect our thinking process with the material of our aliveness is not present. We need to see our lack, to be in front of that question over and over again, and understand that the reconciling force–"the universe"–needs to be created in us.

It needs to be in movement.

It needs to be made of feeling.

 In this way, we are responsible for the recapitulation, during our lifetime, of the entirety of Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson. It is not just an allegorical tale about the universe and earth; it is a mirror in which the life of a single man, from birth to death, is reflected.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Be the grass

This morning, I was pondering the role of time, and ended up reading part of Dogen's Uji,  or, “existence–time.”

 In the Tanahashi translation (Shambhala, 2011), we hear:

“Know that in this way there are myriads of forms and hundreds of grasses [all things] throughout the entire earth, and yet each grass and each form itself is the entire earth. The study of this is the beginning of practice."
"When you are at this place, there is just one grass, there is just one form; there is understanding of form and beyond understanding of form; there is understanding of grass and beyond understanding of grass. Since there is nothing but just this moment, the time being is all the time there is. Grass being, form being, are both time. Each moment is all being, each moment is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment.”

 Because Dogen routinely presents sophisticated ideas, and because his arguments appear to be dense and complex, one tends to be drawn towards an abstract, or intellectual, analysis.

 Yet I think that the whole point of his arguments is to defeat such an approach. His ubiquitous, self-reflective dialectic isn't meant as a de facto call to complexity; rather, it is to point our own complexity out to us, calling our attention to the fact that we are perpetually trapped in dualistic complications. His words and statements, one after another, throughout his teaching, morph into koans. Each one tries to point beyond the dualism that we know, the affirming and denying, towards a third force–a force of reconciliation–that we are not sensitive to. Gurdjieff, one may recall, indicated that man is “third force blind.” We are unaware of this reconciling factor, which could otherwise make the world whole.

So there is nothing academic or intellectual about this passage. We are called, rather, to a sensitive and emotional moment: and in this translation, the point has been deftly realized by referring to grass. (The Nishijima & Cross translation,which has its own transcendental moments, does not quite rise to the occasion in the same way this time.) Associations are called forth: the green color of grass, the delicacy of grass, its tenderness, flexibility, suppleness. The way that grass cover surfaces gently, its movement in wind, the ability of grass to be composed of myriad forms (blades) and yet be one thing, acting together, seen together, experienced together.

Buried deep in this teaching- in all of Dogen's teachings- are body, blood, bones and marrow, not just of the intellect, but of an emotional opening.

We are called to a simple moment, a moment that has nothing to do with trying to figure things out. We are called to this immediate moment. We are called to a relationship with grass, to form-  to a relationship with both our inability to understand form and the existence of form itself. Our awareness becomes a bridge in which we inhabit both the condition and our failure to understand the condition. ( I am reminded of my conversation with my daughter last night, in which she pointed out that for Kant, the sublime– the quality of spiritual purity or excellence–begins with our failure, our inability, to comprehend... "the study of this is the beginning of practice.")

We discover feeling.

 An emotional opening to the quality of grass and the existence of form brings us to a moment where wholeness is possible. Nothing is left out of the present moment. We are called to understand– and do not understand– the present moment, at the same time. Our understanding lies– as the understanding of Socrates lay– in being neither wise with our wisdom, nor stupid with our stupidity, but being just as we are.

"The wisest of you men is he who has realized, like Socrates, that in respect of wisdom he is really worthless." (Plato: The Collected Dialogues, Apology, p. 9, Hamilton & Cairns, Princeton University Press, 1989)

Hence we discover blades of grass that gather themselves together in a landscape: Zen Masters,  German philosophers, wise Greeks. All of them understanding that while we try, and while we fail, we still inhabit the wholeness of all the forms we know– and that this wholeness comprises an ineffable truth that cannot be denied.

Jeanne de Salzmann calls us back over and over to this act of seeing, this act of inhabiting the moment. Nothing is left out of the present moment. We do not need to change the present moment. The need is for the present moment to be seen.

It is not the present moment, its nature, or its content, that distracts us from experience and relationship; the present moment, its nature, and its contents are completely valid and true. They need not change; only our relationship to them must change.

Don't think about the grass... be the grass.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Today is the fifth anniversary of this space.

 Most of us are “out there” looking for something. For the greater part, humanity devotes its search to material rewards: money, sex, power, and so on. Yet there are those of us who don't feel that these things can ever fully satisfy a person; we go poking about in obscure places to try and understand obscure things.

One might say this blog is one of those obscure places, asking such questions.  A waste of time, some would say; yet for those of us who understand such matters, it is the only way to spend time profitably.

This was a year that shook my own world down to the foundations; years like this are valuable, because once the earthquake is over, the landscape is reconfigured, and it is no longer possible to navigate based on previous assumptions. New questions arise; old ones, which may have been around so long they began to exert a hypnotic effect, drop off.

I see once again that I don't in the least know who I am, where I am, or what I am doing.

I remember that Dr. Welch had two favorite ways of opening meetings. One was to ask us, in his gravelly voice (weighted down with gravitas, yet invariably sensitive and gentle): “Why don't we work?”  The other one was to ask us, “Why do we work?” ...He managed to do this without ever posing as though he knew the answer.

 I used to live next to Calvary Cemetery in Queens, NY. For those of you who don't know the territory, it is a landscape in the middle of one of the most densely populated urban areas on earth, punctuated with tens of thousands of tombstones.

As in all cemeteries, every one of those stones marks an ego. That's where all the egos end up: silent, in the earth, swallowed up and forgotten.

Think on this.

There is something more in life. There is the possibility of relationship. The possibility of a new relationship, something different than ego. We won't put a name on it. It doesn't matter what it is called, because it is actually nameless. It is a process, a living thing, born of the ability of the organism to receive.

A man has to have an aim. When the earth shakes and the buildings fall down; when the floodwaters roar in and suck everything away; when the only thing left is to breathe and know that we are alive, we are much closer to knowing what our aim might be. In any event, to a certainty, we are closer to knowing what it isn't. We must lose the world if we want to see the world.

 Last night, after the Thanksgiving meal was over, and my family was in the kitchen washing the dishes, I went up the hill behind our house to check on the chickens and close up the coop for the night.

Pausing for a moment on the way back down, I stared out past branches, now bare of leaves in late November, and set my eyes to a sky yielding its last sunlight.

Night ever gives the land back to more distant stars, who will watch over it past the time of man.  No matter how fallen we are, every soul knows this when it turns its eyes towards heaven.

Somehow, hovering in the air– which is just beginning to acquire the exhilarating, sharp edge of winter– I could sense the presence of my sister: a long way away, and moving outwards towards unknown destinations. She is not completely gone yet, but she is slowly saying goodbye– speaking not in words, but in the language of time and seasons.

I'm going to leave readers today with the text of the requiem I read at my sister's funeral a month ago.

Requiem for Sarah Hansen

In moments like this I seek explanations
But my explanations break down.

I try to philosophize
But my philosophies break down.

I try to rationalize
But my rationalizations break down.

The only thing that does not break down is love.

The love of parents and children is tested. The love of brothers and sisters is tested. And the love of mankind is tested. But although love is eternally tested, it never breaks. The love of God for His creation does not break. No matter how many times love is tested, I repeatedly come to moments where I see that although I am weak, and my own love is weak, love itself is not weak, and it does not break.

For years, almost every day, I’ve climbed the same hill alongside the Hudson River with my dog. Last saturday, the day after Sarah died, I was climbing the hill and realized that it was the first time in my life I had ever climbed the hill without my sister in the world.

That thought stopped me two thirds of the way up the hill, just as I cleared the treetops to a spot where the sun shone through, filtered through afternoon clouds. It filled the sky with what seemed like the radiance of the soul.

I stood in that light and looked into that light, which was a light of truth and a light of hope, and I called out to Sarah,

“You are loved.”

We all carry our stories of Sarah in us, whatever they are, countless stories. There are too many to tell. All these fragments of memory help to make the fabric of life real, but what makes the fabric whole is love.

Sarah loved and was loved, and we’re all here to testify to that love, which doesn’t die, but lives on in each passing moment.

There is that love in all of us; and there is also the perfect Love of God, accompanying every act and circumstance of creation- even the terrible ones which we don’t want, and can’t understand.

Where situations are impossible and words fail, love suffices.

With that love, I remember Sarah’s passion; the wild cards she played, and her effort to struggle through a lifetime of chronic pain, yet still raise a family and find time for work and joy. I remember her creativity. I remember her courage and her crazy, irreverant sense of humor. I remember the way she filled the whole room with her own unique energy of life.

How can we speak of a life like this?

Words aren't enough. But love is enough.

Love is the best we have. It is made of ten thousand impossible things, so it is stronger than the possible. It will always be the foundation on which every memory of Sarah rests.
There is no foundation greater than this; it is a good one, which time and death have no power over.

Sarah, we love you.

One last note to readers.

 Those few who have followed this space for years will know that every year, on the anniversary, I change the sign off phrase for the blog.

For the last year, the sign off has been, “May our prayers be heard.” For the next year, I'm going to steal a phrase from Dogen, who sometimes ended his Dharma Hall discourses with the following phrase:

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.