Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Not Holding On

I recently acquired a new book on Dogen's Genjo Koan– “Three commentaries– including the essential 19th century commentary by Nishiari Bokusan.

Those interested in connections between the Gurdjieff teaching and Dogen's conception of Zen will find this fine book well worth reading. Bokusan's discourse on form and emptiness (pages 34-36) bears, in my eyes, a striking relationship to Jeanne de Salzmann's practice of standing between the inner and the outer– the positioning of the attention in an unattached manner.

Bokusan says, "To selflessly see the inside and outside of the world together as one is Genjo Koan. Here, there is no yardstick with which to measure delusion and enlightenment." (Dogen's Genjo Koan- three commentaries, p. 39, 2011, Counterpoint-Berkeley.)

 It would be tempting to see the material in this book as theoretical, but it just simply isn't. In fact, Bokusan says, “Then what in the world is Genjo koan? First of all, you should get it right down in your hara. This cannot be done solely by thinking. On the other hand, you cannot grasp it without knowing the basic principle. So first I will explain it for the moment in an analytical fashion.”  (ibid, p. 13.)

What Bokusan is saying here is that we have to know this material in our guts, organically. But we begin with the mind, because we must begin there.

What does all of this mean in simple, practical terms?

I want things to be like this, or like that. But things are not "like" anything. Things are just like themselves. Each event, condition, circumstance, and object has an essential nature that belongs exclusively to it, and is already whole.

My disjointed inner connections fail to perceive that: when the centers don't work together properly, each one divides the whole world into its own slice of pie. But the world is not a slice of pie; it is a whole pie, and no matter how many tiny slices of it you make, all of them are just pie.

There isn't any reason to hold on to life. It comes and it goes, and it is always here. Inhabiting life involves standing between Being and not Being. This is, in a way, one of the points of the first three brief paragraphs of the Genjo Koan.

I think I am going to get rid of something in order to become whole; get rid of my delusions, get rid of my personality, what have you. If I obtain a spiritual paring knife, and I peel off all the bad parts, there will be a pure and good "me" that emerges (if there's anything left.) This delusion arises naturally from an essential lack of love of Self and an essential dissatisfaction with Self; if I have no respect for Self, I have no respect for God.  Whatever there is is already here. Respect that.

Existence and non-existence of this and that have nothing to do with the Buddha Dharma; it is not a question of existence or nonexistence, it is always a question of relationship. When I see material–for example, a ladle over the stove, or a flower–I think I am seeing a ladle or a flower, but I am seeing relationships. Ladles and flowers are complete expressions of relationship, and completely represent the arising and existence of relationship. Moreover, I am not seeing relationship; I am actually just relationship within relationship. There is no separation between relationship and relationship. We are all together here in a single complete expression of the Dharma.

The position I am in is constantly moving and requires constant examination. I don't come from anywhere, and I don't get anywhere; I am perpetually here, poised within this flow of events, yet in some peculiar way not connected to them in any immediate fashion. My manifestation has no material substance; it is not grounded. It is an abstraction. Why is this so? I need to keep asking myself that.

Gurdjieff made much of the difference between essence and personality. In his eyes, modern man was far too absorbed in personality; certainly, our media culture reinforces that impression.  If we were going to simplify the question, we might say that personality is a product of the outer nature of man, and essence is a product of his inner nature.

Essence, unlike personality, has the capacity to be here now. It is not a quality of definition and division; it is a quality of sensation and substance. Essence knows that it is alive, and participating; it inhabits. Every time my own sense of essence begins to predominate, the sense of gravity within life increases. Here and now is a location to be inhabited, not a premise to theorize about.

 We need both essence and personality; and we need a balance between them. Dogen's Buddha Dharma most certainly touches on the question of the balance between these two qualities, even if he uses a different language to express it.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

1 comment:

  1. There are SO many approaches to the Work left to us by Mr. Gurdjieff that we are bound to eventually find our own living voice within that tradition if we take what he lived; his teaching which existed WITHIN HIMSELF, and follow it with integrity.

    This is no easy path, because the work must be invisible or it is a sham, a preening before the world, even if it is a confined world of the protected spaces of the Societies and Foundations.

    So already, we are on the horn of a dilemma: Either we evidence no change at all, or we change and it is seen for what it is, a show.

    Bukusan says: There is no yardstick with which to measure delusion and enlightenment".

    Exactly. When I breathe, this can become evident: as I exhale, I am leaving something behind, I am pushing NOW in the PAST with my exhalation; I die to what has been, and when I inhale, I PULL myself into an unknown FUTURE.

    But I forget, and like Janus I become two faced, looking back at a past I think is closed and a future that I think is unknown, and I miss the moment of life entirely: I remain the dead man walking in his subtle trance, on his way to a place that is nowhere to be found, a "non-being" in the surest sense of the word.

    There is that well known image from the Upanishads: "Two birds are on a branch; one eats therefrom, the other watches".

    I would add a third bird so that the truth becomes the fact that one bird eats in the hope of the future, the second bird regurgitates the past endlessly, and if there is a third bird, then this one stands between, watching.

    Only the third bird is living; the others are as this: one imagines; the second thrives in a glorification of the past, and only the third bird lives in the Now, between it's unconscious brothers.

    There should be no scorn; there is no need for that, just an affectionate compassion towards the two birds that are as the ones crucified on either side of the ONE bird of everlasting life.


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