Saturday, July 2, 2011


It's early morning, and I am looking out over People's Park in Shanghai, towards the Shanghai Museum. (Just for the record, the above photo is of the Bund in Shanghai, not the Shanghai Museum.) The city is appealingly shrouded in mist this morning, which softens the hard lines of concrete and steel that characterize almost everything man sees fit to build these days. As is often the case, I'm trying to sort out how to write about what I'm currently pondering without sounding didactic... perhaps an impossible task, but there you have it.

I found myself mulling over the question of predestination this morning... an interesting question that relates to Gurdjieff's statement to Ouspensky that "for one thing to be different, everything would have to be different." I've written several other essays in this space about the possibility of a completely deterministic universe, in which only our attitude towards events has the potential for change. (The idea is far from new... it was a matter of debate in the early Christian church, and in modern times, it touches on questions raised by quantum physics.)

It's a fascinating question, but it's theoretical... for some reason, this morning, that aspect bothers me... and that leads to another line of questions.

This blog has always struck a balance–admittedly uneven–between discussions about theory and observations drawn from practice, since both seem quite necessary in any inner work. It's nearly impossible to claim that one is superior to the other; and after all, both arise within us on this level, and act on this level. They both inevitably fall short of truly grasping the influence of the level above us, although both are supposedly aimed at doing so.

Here's the problem: when genuine influences from a higher level arrive, theory goes out the window–though it may be informed by such influence–and practice is transformed into something that does not belong to us, but rather emanates from principles we are at best dimly aware of under any ordinary circumstances.

We are left, by and large, with books that constitute records of one kind or another. The most recent books of any significant content within the Gurdjieff canon are, of course, “The Reality of Being” and “Notes From The Next Attention.” Both of these fine works purport to be about practice, but because they are books, as their ideas enter us, they are already theoretical. As they express themselves within us, the premises they contain have inevitably entered the realm of thought (whether by verbal association or association by form) not actual manifestation, and the realm of thought is like quicksand.

The realm of actual manifestation is not only fluid and in constant movement, it is unique to each individual, and the records that one individual leaves behind may well prove misleading or even useless to others.

This was a point made by the “other” Krishnamurti, U.G. Krishnamurti, who, although he languishes in relative obscurity in the esoteric world compared to Jiddu Krishnamurti, offered fascinating and challenging points of view on the matter.

One might conceivably point out that the realm of thought is actually one aspect of the realm of actual manifestation, and this is indeed true, but it is a fragmentary aspect. The realm of actual manifestation, which can only be sensed if the organic sense of Being is active, is of a fundamentally different material quality.

This essay itself, like all other writings, also emanates from the realm of thought, which is not the realm of God. The realm of God extends well beyond thought and cannot be packed into its valise... when it arrives, this becomes apparent. One wonders how one could have been so foolish as to believe any such thing in the first place. In any event, the body itself, which after all is quite ordinary and is merely a machine existing on this level, already transcends thought quite neatly within both its moving center and its emotional center, so it ought to be apparent within the immediate context of three centered being that thought is far from transcendent.

Nonetheless, this irrevocable fact escapes us on a moment to moment basis, doesn't it? We believe quite firmly in the power of our thought. Even when we know better.

Like theory, or thought, practice also locates itself and emanates from within this body. The body, which is an exquisite machine for the sending and receiving of vibrations, is still fundamentally limited in its abilities, because its manifestations are once again irrevocably constrained to this level. In attempting to think of an analogy that will explain this, it occurs to me that although a three-dimensional figure contains two-dimensional aspects, which are also expressed in it, one can never pack the third dimension back down into two dimensions. It doesn't work that way. Dimensions are an emergent property. In the same way, one might say that because of the properties of consciousness, a man can become aware of himself as existing within a “fourth dimension” which has properties related to divinity, but he will always still be a man inhabiting this three-dimensional location.

Ultimately, the presumption that we can grasp anything other than ourselves and where we are is a form of arrogance. In the same way, a petition of prayer is a form of arrogance. Our efforts are a form of arrogance.

Why is that? It's because everything that we do emanates from the fundamental fact that we believe in ourselves first, and then–if it is convenient for us–we believe in God. Do we see that? Even those who claim they believe in God first do not understand what it means to know in God, because belief in God does not constitute knowing in God–it is a belief, not an understanding, so already it emanates from thought.

Understanding does not emanate from thought. Until we understand, which is a process that can only take place with assistance from a higher level, everything emanates from thought. Generally speaking, even our practice emanates from thought. Zen Buddhism more or less recognizes this dilemma–and even though it has an elaborate and very formalized practice, it might be said Zen has the aim of destroying the practice itself through practice.

The point about practice is that although it presumes to trump theory, it also begins with the belief that we can "build a bridge," a belief that arises from thought.

Everything that begins with belief is mistaken and does not emanate from the will of God. If we believe in God, already, we have denied God, because the belief is not God's belief, it is our belief. Everything within us that emanates from our own will needs to be extinguished in order to leave room for the will of God. This is a principle that Meister Eckhart expounded on at length in his sermons and essays.

The principle is an important one to examine, since the premise is hardly foreign to the aim of the Gurdjieff work.

May our prayers be heard.

1 comment:

  1. Reading The Reality of Being and The Next Attention almost always serve as reminders to practice the inner work according to my current understanding of things. Outer life is so hypnotizing and demanding. But looking at it in kind of a gross way, the reading of these two books serves as a reminder to come to "myself", to notice the breath, to attract the many Work "I"s within my system and experience. On any given day, it's hard to know what aspect of the Work will appear in my thoughts or body or feelings.

    Yesterday, in the midst of outer chaos (Disneyland in Anaheim), Jim Wyckoff's question of "What is true for me now?" appeared, believe it or not, and that question was explored as the day went on. The breath was noticed often, the body was noticed often (sore feet and legs and 95 degree temperatures), the experience of being here now came up often. The I Am was tried often (maybe 30 times). "I" on the in-breath and "Am" on the out breath per Gurdjieff's original instructions to members of the NY Foundation in the late 40s. My two natures were experienced often (with many interruptions, of course).

    Nobody on the outside appears to care about any of this inner work. Which is fine. Maybe some day their turn will come.

    When they are ready, the Work will find them. But for now, those who are interested and able, will have to carry the load, to be the true environmentalists. Maybe there will be a time when everyone on the planet who is working on themselves according to Gurdjieff as well as all the others who are working on themselves in some other manner will have a moment of stop and be in the NOW. Would outer things change? Could outer things change?

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