Friday, October 7, 2011

Opinions and conditions


There's a difference between conditions and opinions about conditions.

For the greater part, I mistake opinions about conditions for actual conditions. This is a powerful habit; in addition, I blithely assume that one ought to have opinions about conditions. The greater part of intercourse between us–conversation, in all of its varieties–consists of opinions about conditions. This leads to an enormous amount of talking, but much of the talking is pointless.

Conditions are conditions. There is an objectivity within conditions that does not exist and can never exist in opinions. If I learn to be more still in myself, and I discover the consistent arising of opinions within me from this place of stillness, I begin to see that conditions are conditions and opinions are opinions. The distinction between the two will lead one who perceives it to have less interest in opinions. There isn't anything real about them; I race about having them ad infinitum, but in the end, they're empty. Subjectivity loses its glamour as one sees it more clearly.

What is it to perceive conditions?

There ought not to be a division between conditions and Being. To Be is to Be within conditions; they are simply facts. Some of us may recall the way that Mr. Gurdjieff assured his protégé Ouspensky that "there will be facts," as reported in In Search of the Miraculous.

Perhaps I take that to mean that somehow there is some higher truth that will magically appear at some point, some drawing back of the curtain to reveal reality. And perhaps, if I do take it that way, I am expecting a lot.

Trees are just trees, and rivers are just rivers. Facts are nothing more than what appears following the collapse of opinions, which strips reality down to just what is. What is, doesn't have any opinions, in the same way that starlings and frogs don't know there is a stock market. Things that are invented in my mind are in and of my mind; the objectivity that lies outside this realm of mine escapes me, maybe because I don't want to see it. So the idea that "there will be facts" may indicate simply that an objective state can arrive.

As I write this, I am looking out of a hotel room window on the 48th floor of a skyscraper in the middle of downtown Shanghai. The city is laid out below me. I have all kinds of opinions about cities; I have opinions about this one, about the things that are in it, the nature of the air pollution that I see over it right this moment, the architecture of the buildings, and so on.

Nonetheless, there are also facts. Here I am. There is this. We are together; I am in front of it, as much as it is in front of me. There is not as much separation as I would like to believe.

My instinct to separate arises from my paranoia; I feel that I need to be apart. It gives me an excuse to feel superior, different, above the rest. In other words, my opinions are an action designed specifically to bolster my ego. It's a subtle action, because denial is always at work here: my opinions present themselves as objective. It's built into the machine.

A massive amount of this goes on all day long. It's possible for a separation to take place between this activity and something that is more sensitive and more objective, and that is the only separation that is truly needed. The manufactured separation I engage in is a different matter entirely.

I often refer, in my writings, to the organic state of being. This is not a hypothesis or a direction; it is a statement that resides within the flesh, blood, bones, and marrow of Being. The statement is not complicated. Things are quite a bit simpler than my opinions make them.

Reading in the Philokalia the other day, I can across this passage from St. Antony the Great:

"All rational beings, whether they be men or women, have an organ of love, by which they can embrace both the divine and the human. Men of God love what is of God; men of the flesh love what is of the flesh. Men who love what is of God, purify their hearts from all impurities and the affairs of this transient world, hate the world and their own souls, and, bearing their cross, follow the Lord, doing His will in all things. Therefore, God comes to dwell in them and gives them joy in sweetness, which feeds their souls, nourishes them and makes them grow. Just as trees cannot grow, if they have no natural water, so too with the soul, unless it receives heavenly sweetness. Only those souls grow, which have received the Spirit and are watered by heavenly sweetness." (trans. Kadloubovsky & Palmer, Faber & Faber 1954, p. 47-48)

To modern ears, it's nearly certain that the phrase indicating men ought to "hate the world and their own souls" sounds overly harsh. However, it echoes a principal expounded by Mr. Gurdjieff: "like what it does not like." To "hate the world" is to abandon opinions. To "hate our own souls" is to abandon the ego ("my own soul" is not the essential soul God has given me–it is what I think I own, but do not.) The idea presented here is the idea of non attachment, non-identification. And to gain distance from opinion has little or nothing to do from dismissing opinion mentally, or having negative opinions about opinion itself.

To love what is of God is to gain such distance. In order to find a new path towards the heart of this question, I need to begin to recognize conditions as conditions. Already, here, a sweetness can arise–but not of me. Only through me.

This sweetness which Antony speaks of is not ephemeral or metaphorical. There is a true sweetness that can visit us, nourish us. It is indeed a sweetness born in Heaven.

There is a Light greater than the word light, and a Glory greater than the word glory.

May our prayers be heard.