Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Search, and Error

Back from China–the jet lag has been worse than usual this time, I have taken over a week now and I am not quite back on US time yet.

Yesterday, the question of inner search and error was in the air. Living, as I do, in a community with a wide variety of seekers, pursuing a bewildering variety of paths, one wonders whether it is possible that all paths are “correct.”

Religions have a distressing way of insisting that their path is the only one, and that every other path is in error. Not all of them are rigid about this, but almost all of them share this characteristic in common. On the other hand, New Age spirituality has fostered what one might call an equally reactionary openness, an attitude in which everything is right and everything is somehow equal to the next thing.

I'm reminded of what Gurdjieff told Ouspensky in regard to the idea that people encounter what he called “influences C”–that is, truth that actually comes from a higher level, objective truth–and confuse it with influences “A” and “B”–that is, things that are actually less true, in a relative sense. They end up thinking they have the same value. This is an example of human beings presuming that everything is somehow equal--even though we can directly see from what even ordinary life presents us with that this simply isn't the case. For example, listening to Gregorian chant is not the same as watching a Yankees game.

Given that all things are not equal, evidently there must be paths that are, in one way or another, in error. No matter how generous we want to be, for example, I doubt we will extend the benefit of the doubt to religious practices that feel it is all right to kill those who don't share in the practice. No expansion of the Dharma can inflate the balloon large enough to conflate such an idea with the idea of right action.

It's true that the Dharma–universal truth–encompasses everything, but it doesn't mean that everything is equally good. And to presume that there is no good or evil–no polarity–is equally mistaken. Polarities are necessary in order for energy to flow, and so good and evil are both real and necessary aspects of reality that exist in a reciprocal relationship, creating the need for conscious beings to make choices. Gurdjieff used this premise as one of the foundational conditions for Beelezebubs' Tales To His Grandson–Beelzebub was banished to our solar system because he made mistakes–he was in error, he chose the wrong path.

Although tolerance is paramount, those who work seriously need to avoid getting sucked into a touchy–feeley attitude where discrimination is abandoned and all practices are equally wonderful and equally good. All the great masters seem to have clearly stated that not all practices are equally wonderful and equally good, and we ignore this understanding at our peril. Dogen, for example, repeatedly warned against the dangers of adulterating Buddhism with understandings from other practices (particularly Taoism.)

All of this brings us to the question of what one should do, in an age of spiritual smorgasbord, where the commercial pork sausage and the wild smoked salmon are next to each other as though there was no difference between the two. There is the temptation to experiment, to run in every direction; there is the inevitable inner reaction in which one becomes defensive about one's own practice; there is a consequent dilution of focus and forces.

I find it helpful to remind myself that all of these conditions are inevitable, a direct consequence of the requirement of living within a world of form, and a broadening of my perspective. I don't have to carry this confusion into my inner work. There is a point at which the competition, the inquiry, my inability to fully understand, can all be abandoned.

I am attempting to become open to influences higher than myself, and those influences are both tangible, practical, and active. Letting go of my own error–my entanglement with the world of ideas and premises–can be a relief, insofar as I am able to go that deep.

May our prayers be heard.

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