Thursday, November 10, 2011

Giving thanks

What is it to give thanks for our existence? I mean, to really give thanks, intentionally, and with all three centers?

On page 728  of Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, new edition, we encounter the following passage:

     "Perhaps, my boy, you do not yet know anything about the 'holy sacrament of the great Serooazar'?" Beelzebub asked his grandson.
     To this question of Beelzebub, Hassein replied:
     "No, dear Grandfather, I do not yet know the details of this; I only know that these dionosks are regarded among us on the planet Karatas as great, holy days and are called 'helping-God dionosks.'  And I also know that at the end of these great holy days, all our beings, 'actavas' and 'passavas,' begin to prepare themselves for the next ones; and that one 'loonia' before the beginning of this sacred mystery both old and young cease to introduce the 'first being-food' into themselves and, through various sacred ceremonies, mentally give thanks for their existence to our Common Creator."

Wandering about (and often lost) in the fascinating technical esoterica of Gurdjieffian lore, perhaps we forget how recognizably Christian, how fundamental and perhaps even "ordinary" many of the practices Gurdjieff called us to are.

 To give thanks for my existence.

 Unless I see the wholeness of life, the wholeness of how nature expresses itself in the three forces of thought, material, and emotion (see the previous post) I don't see why I should be thankful. When Dogen says, “We have obtained these bodies difficult to obtain, and encountered this dharma difficult to encounter. Therefore, let us practice as though our hair were on fire,” he is indicating just how precious and important this life itself is. 

To practice as though my hair is on fire is to give thanks.

To see the wholeness of life is to understand that 100% of it, all of it, everything that is given, is a gift for my work. It isn't just something that happens. Life is sent through Love and in Love, and all of creation manifests within that Love to participate in community.  I speak here not just of the community of human beings, but the community of matter–the community of the earth, the planet–the community of the solar system. The question of community expands, ultimately, to include everything there is.

The deepest sense of this life and its value–which is, at the objective level, absolute, not relative–cannot be understood without taking in impressions properly, taking them in deeply. Receiving life in a different way than I usually receive it.

Jeanne de Salzmann refers to this by saying that understanding is based on conscious impressions, and that “understanding is a precious treasure that must enter as a living element in my effort.” 
(The Reality of Being, Shambala, 2010, pages 79–80.)  

So if I have a real impression of my life, a true impression, I see that it is, in its entirety, a precious treasure. This essential sacredness must be sensed organically, in the deepest part of the being. The sense of this sacredness is connected to the action of what Gurdjieff called Hanbledzoin; this substance marries the thought to the feelings. Only if thought is connected to feeling can I begin to sense this. This is a substantive action, a material action, not a theoretical or mental action.

The action of giving thanks begins here. It begins immediately, in this life, with a sense of how complete and whole life is, with the sense that everything is bound together into one great expression, referred to as the Dharma by Buddhists. The Dharma is not just a mental conception. It is the entire field of energy–thought, sensed, spoken, felt– which I exist in, and which includes me.

Dogen liked to refer to his pupils as “Buddha ancestors.” Gurdjieff, perhaps more prosaically, called them his "adepts." Either way, the inference is that we are on a path towards understanding. This thing called understanding, which we hope to acquire on this path, is precious; that understanding is a treasure. It has an immeasurable value that cannot be extracted from the Dharma; it resides within it, and our only option is to surrender ourselves in that direction, to inhabit the Dharma itself, thereby participating in its truth.

Once I understand, I give thanks. 

Even in the midst of grief, and fear, if there is any sense of wholeness in me, any appreciation of how completely extraordinary this life is, I still give thanks. In this way, every act of living becomes a prayer. Michel Conge touches on this fundamental principle in his fine book Inner Octaves (which is, unfortunately, not available in stores, a lamentable situation that definitely ought to be corrected.)

 This is a question I can carry in myself in every moment of every day. Am I giving thanks? I give thanks by making a conscious effort–by trying to remain in touch with my wish, in touch with my sensation, my feeling, my thought.

Of course, I describe all these things as though they can be explained. The simple fact is that they cannot. It's possible to experience all of these actions, but reading about them–or writing them down in a diary–does not begin to approach what we are actually dealing with. 

Because, after all, all of this in one way or another represents what life actually ought to be about and what life actually ought to be for, and all of us have strayed very far from that path.

May our prayers be heard.