Sunday, November 13, 2011


There are intimate relationships between practice in Zen Buddhism and the understandings we find in Jeanne de Salzmann's observations about the Gurdjieff work.

 I'll examine one specific example today, because I feel it's striking.

First, from Dogen's Shobogenzo:

“To carry the self forward and illuminate myriads things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and illuminate the self is awakening." 
(Treasury of the True Dharma eye, p. 29, Zen Master Dogen's Shobo Genzo,  as translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi,  Shambhala, 2010)

 Then, from, Jeanne de Salzmann:

"We do not see the simultaneous movements outward toward manifestation and inward toward a reality at the source, two kinds of vibrations. Always I nourish the feeling of my ordinary "I", clinging blindly to the first movement, the vibration that draws me outward. I am taken by my activity of the moment, and believe that in this vibration lies the affirmation of myself. In this identification I am lost in one or another part of myself, unconscious of the whole."

" I can come to [Presence] if I am actively passive, quiet enough for an energy of another quality to appear, to be contained in me. This is a state of deep letting go where the functions are maintained in passivity. I let my functions come into my presence. I do not go into them; they come into me. Only the attention is active, an attention coming from all the centers.” 
(The Reality of Being, pages 81–82, Shambhala 2010.)

 Admittedly, the passages from de Salzmann are far wordier, but at the same time they are (helpfully) more specific. They illuminate Dogen's meaning in a way that may not be immediately accessible to us.

Part of our difficulty in understanding Dogen's language is–first of all–that it's a translation. Second, lexicons of terminology and the associative meaning of words change over time.  The substantial differences between one of the last major translations of the Shobogenzo (Nishijima and Cross) and this new one (Tanahashi), which were accomplished not too many years apart,  underscores this issue.

Last but not least, all of us are accustomed to hearing the words of Buddhism quite habitually, so we come to them always with an ordinary, predetermined set of associations that is almost impossible to leave behind.

In some senses, an approach to understanding any esoteric literature involves not only leaving my associations with the words behind, but also developing a practical and physical relationship with what is being said. That, too, requires that I overcome the considerable obstacles that arise when such pursuits begin, in large part, as intellectual enterprises.

The habitual assumption that we understand the language of an esoteric practice is the reason that Gurdjieff, when he introduced a work that relied heavily on yoga teachings, completely eliminated the yoga terminology, substituting the word “centers” for chakras,  and so on.

 In any event, de Salzmann's  description of us going outward is the same as Dogen's carrying the self forward. Using the self to go outward and illuminate the world (by rough analogy, the concept of employing the ego as an interpretive mechanism which tries to "grasp" reality) is Dogen's delusion. This is much the same action as Gurdjieff (and de Salzmann's ) identification. Both masters are indicating that when we become identified with the outward movement of the self, it attempts to seize the world and make it its own property.

 I need to be careful not to understand this idea of going outward in a strictly psychological way. This action is an entire organic movement which must be physically sensed, intellectually sensed, and emotionally sensed, in the moment. (In other words, it must be seen.) The problem is not just a problem of the way that I think.

 Here we come to what intrigued me when I read the passage from Dogen this morning.  That myriad things come forth and illuminate the self is awakening.

When I read this passage, it immediately struck me that this was perhaps very nearly identical to de Salzmann's indication that I let my functions come into my presence.

Both of these texts indicate that the action of awakening is an action of receiving the world, not trying to go out and get it. In order to understand this, I must organically begin to sense the difference between outward and inward movement. To carry the self forward–to go outward–comes only from my personality, my ego. To allow myriad things to come forth–to allow my functions to come into my presence–to not go into them, but to let them come into me–this is the action I often refer to in this space as inhabiting my life.  This is an action of essence, which has a completely different relationship to my life. Personality is a tourist. Essence is an inhabitant.

The tourist, arriving, feels the need to document everything, take photographs, buy souvenirs, attempts to own the space by seizing parts of it, claiming to understand it, trying to define it.

The inhabitant has no need for such activity: already inhabiting, the inhabitant is already there. There is no need to attempt to take and hold what surrounds the inhabitant, because it is already a part of her, and she of it.

In my eyes, there is a subtle relationship between these ideas and the ideas of God the Father and the Virgin Mary: Mary seen as the female principle, a vessel that receives the energy and expression-the activity-of the father, or inseminating agent. Of this, something new and quite extraordinary may be born. It might not be too bold to say that being born of the Holy Spirit begins with allowing my functions to come into my presence.

This is not different than allowing myriad things to come forth and illuminate the self.

May our prayers be heard.

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