Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Can everything be different?

The question of what it means to develop humility and to understand compassion go to the depths of a practice. People think they understand compassion (and everything else) when they are in their 20s, and that older people don't. Then we hope to understand it in our 30s, and our 40s and 50s, by reading books and going to workshops, or by sitting on cushions for countless hours.

What isn't appreciated is that this is a lifelong work, a substantial work, that is to say, a work that involves experiencing new substances and a completely different materiality.

A practice takes decades; it takes lifetimes. It involves a constant attention to the taking in of countless impressions, many that we don't even wish to be present to. It is this insistence that we give ourselves on being present to impressions that makes a difference, because we need that food, whether the parts of us that want to reject it know it or not.

We say Lord have Mercy because we wish to attract help from above us. If Mercy is sent— here is the heart of the question I wrote about in my last essay— maybe we can learn humility. If not—maybe not. The body itself must change. The physical body must change. This is what isn't understood, and what Gurdjieff tried to teach people.

The consistent taking of compassion as an attitude or concept is impossible. With us, everything is an attitude or a concept. Nothing is in the body; we don't understand what it means to receive a finer energy, except almost by sheer luck.  Then it lasts no longer than the sitting we were in. We don't nourish what we are given; we are not brave enough to take it out into life, which is the only place it could be made stronger. Like cowards, we take Grace and hoard it. This needs to be examined very carefully in a man's work. Beauty is never there by accident; but we come to presence by accident, which is not enough.

The fundamental transformation that changes the nature of the body and its material is, furthermore, both a technical work and a work that is not technical at all. It is no use getting buried in an analysis of the ideas. It's very important to study them; but ideas are just ideas. We are made up of one attitude after another, but we need to be made up of our organic materiality, and this is perhaps what we need to know the most. To be conscious of the organism, and to have the organism be conscious of us—now that is something different. Then maybe we can discover our relationship with one another.

The quality of Mercy is, like humility, a substance. It is a physical substance, an actual and sensate material that must penetrate us. This is not a metaphor or analogy. It is a chemical and energetic fact. The whole point of understanding the higher hydrogens is to be able to understand this; and yet, what good does it do to know all the facts; or even a few of them? Nothing. It does no good at all. Because in the end, all real work is contingent on a finer emotional substance that does not submit to chemical analysis on sheets of paper. Remember that the next time you are in a meeting with people noodling around, hypothesizing and arguing and discussing this, that, and the other metaphysical question. Take a look at your body and your mind and how they are. Put yourself between the inner and the outer. It is very different than all the talking. This point must be seen and be seen clearly. Otherwise, our work is useless.

 We are all the same here. Mr. Gurdjieff had the same problems, and he spoke about it to Jeanne de Salzmann when she asked him.  Don't fall for the charismatics and the gurus. We're all responsible for coming under our own laws, because we own the laws that create us and that we inhabit. Laws from our level are personal, in the case of our own consciousness. They aren't some other laws from outside us; they are actual active presences, always alive within us. We can only become free of them by inhabiting them fully. To obey the law is the one way to become free of the law. An obedient man has the opportunity to experience a higher order of law, because he's not in violation of the laws he is required to live under. Think of the Centurion who wanted his servant healed in the parables of the New Testament. This question of obedience is essential; yet who speaks of it today?

I was walking the dog this afternoon and I realized that I have never known what I was doing. I am on this planet with a mission; yet it is vague. Most of what I have done, I have done mindlessly, or incorrectly. I have clear jobs set before me that might have meaning, but I don't put myself to those tasks. Am I doomed to stumble about for most of a lifetime unclear about where I am and what I am doing? Others think I am focused and directed, and that I do an enormous amount of stuff. Yet it isn't like that at all. Those are all outward appearances and have nothing to do with the inner state that I must constantly confront and examine. I struggle to be present to my cats when I feed them in the morning. They, like my dog, deserve more than what I can give them. And every person around me is like that too. They all deserve more than what I am capable of giving them.  Living with that in front of oneself on a daily basis goes a long way towards explaining why one would rather be asleep.

Well, we're all much like that. And perhaps we've missed the point. We're here, after all, simply to take in impressions—to act as a sensory organ. One could erase the blackboard of all of the nonsense we are up to and that would be enough of an explanation.

If we truly saw what we are, and truly experienced humility, everything on this planet would fundamentally change. Nothing we are currently doing would be possible; society could not be organized the way it is, politics would not function the way it does, food would be grown differently. A man who knows this organically already knows something very different. Work needs to come to this point.

 Even in this work, which is a work in life, if a man doesn't devote himself completely and utterly to God, and does not have the thought of God present with him at every moment, his work is also useless.

 Mr. Gurdjieff famously told Ouspensky that a particular situation could not change; for one thing to be different, everything would have to be different. He said it as though the world were set in stone; and, in what is essentially a deterministic universe, perhaps that is true.

But nonetheless, Gurdjieff brought us a work where he said that everything can be different.

And it is true.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Humility and Compassion

Mankind, on the whole, is terribly impressed with itself and with the disasters it brings upon itself.

We believe in our own agency—we believe in our ability to do, and even worse, we also believe we have an ability to undo.

By and large, expressed from what one might call a Judeo-Christian Buddhist point of view, what we believe we lack, that would fix everything, is compassion.

There is this general belief out there—well meant, I think, sincere and even heartfelt—that this is what we need to acquire. People need to be more compassionate, act more compassionately, understand from a compassionate point of view, etc. The Dali Lama preaches compassion in the latest issue of Shambhala Sun. Mother Teresa preached it.

Get in line. It's the easy answer; anyone can sign on and sound good. Hurrah! Look! There is a way for us to fix things...!

It is far more difficult to say anything true, anything that might skip over the soundbites and get to the root of the matter. Yet the root of the matter does not lie in any ability to lift ourselves up through our own agency, our compassionate deeds—it lies in seeing how far down we have fallen.

Mankind does not understand compassion. This is where the problem begins. Compassion operates on a horizontal scale. It is the bars of the crucifix, the tree limb on which Christ was hung. It can only operate horizontally, because it implies a congruent emotional state—one that exerts its force across this level, not up towards God.  Think it over: how could we be compassionate towards God?

It's good that compassion operates horizontally: it's a necessary force, and everything in the world would definitely be worse without it. The difficulty comes because it can't operate horizontally, not in the least, unless it is in proper relationship with a vertical force. And it is exactly this lack that prevents real compassion from emerging, except and unless men are under terrible duress—such as war, when remarkable things become possible because a powerful shock has been applied. In such conditions, a man sees what he is—he sees how tiny he is—and a new influence from a higher level arrives, an influence that has a different kind of force, a force representing something higher than man.

That vertical force bestows humility. If a man does not acquire humility first; if he does not submit, if he does not see his place and acknowledge what he is, his compassion cannot be fixed in place. It's merely propped up on the powerful tree trunk of his ego and wobbles up and down. It isn't informed with the energy that is necessary to be compassionate, because it emanates from— and goes out to— the horizontal level only. The higher influence it needs in order to stabilize it is not there.

This is why mechanical compassion, learned compassion, philosophized, theorized, educated, taught, or accidentally acquired compassion is forever spinning its wheels in this world of violence and disbelief. Only an intelligent, an inwardly formed, a conscious compassion can do any real work. And that never arises unless it is first inwardly formed by humility. Without humility, compassion remains a creature of the ego. A man cannot open his heart without humility; and compassion without an open heart, well, there is nothing real there.

 Even Christ had to submit with humility when he said, in the garden of Gethsemane, “Thy will be done.” The only reason his compassion for mankind was perfect was because he had perfected his humility.

The relationship between vertical and horizontal, and the need for the vertical to inform the horizontal, as represented on the cross, is largely forgotten in this belief of ours that we are powerful agents. We are not powerful agents: the whole point of humility is to realize this, to see it.

Humility isn't born in public. You don't see it on soapboxes. It doesn't issue proclamations. This is the most private and intimate matter of a man's soul and any sacred grace he may be touched by. It is a silent force; it can't be employed for anything except the act of kneeling in prayer. And it must completely penetrate a man and replace everything that he has in him if he has a real wish to discover anything that can actually act with integrity on this level. If he does, it will act through him, not of him.

 Humility, like sorrow, is not a concept. It is a substance. Until a man or woman receives it as a substance in the body in the same way that one receives the body and blood of Christ in communion, he or she knows nothing of humility— except that the word exists, and has accepted definitions.

 This doesn't mean we shouldn't try to be compassionate.

It does mean we first need to work for a much deeper understanding of ourselves and see what we are before we make that effort. If the effort comes from a place that has not submitted, it is a vain effort, that is, one we try to make belong to ourselves.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Balanced Work

There are times when the master buries the bone deep.

There are other times when he implies he has buried the bone deep, causing all of his pupils to race around furiously digging holes, when actually, he left the bone right on the kitchen table.

One of the most essential principles in the Gurdjieff system is that an inner work must be a balanced work. Not only did he refer to his organization as the "Institute for Harmonious Development," he repeatedly emphasized the need for three centered work, a work in which all of the centers were balanced. And his protégés—most notably Jeanne de Salzmann—spoke about the need to balance inner work many times. For example, de Salzmann speaks in The Reality Of Being of getting the three centers to work at the same speed—something they don't do under ordinary circumstances, as Gurdjieff explained to Ouspensky in In Search Of The Miraculous.

Let's pause here for a moment and examine all of this information in the context of what Gurdjieff told Ouspensky about the wrong location of the second shock in the enneagram.  The shock, he said, lawfully comes between the notes “Si” and “Do.” The diagram, however, "wrongly" locates it between "Sol" and "La."

Aside from his cryptic remarks about the fact that the wrong location indicated the type of work that was necessary for the second shock, Gurdjieff never elaborated on this. Longtime readers of my material may recall  that in the past, I've offered a few possibilities for what he meant by that remark.

Today, I'm going to offer what is perhaps a simpler and more obvious one.

 Before you read any further, please take a look at the following diagram  of what the enneagram looks like when you locate the shock in the correct place.

Let's take a brief excursion into what symbols are for. Symbols are meant to represent abstractions of principles; they are not literal, but, literally, figurative interpretations of ideas. Symbols commonly undergo manipulation in order to more effectively express ideas that cannot be expressed literally.

 The simplest possible explanation of what Gurdjieff was trying to get Ouspensky to understand when he talked about the shock being located in the "wrong" place on the diagram is that the type of work that is necessary to pass from "Si" to "Do" is a balanced work. The placement of the shock, in other words, creates a symmetrical and balanced diagram that properly represents the law of three functioning in a balanced way, instead of indicating one-sided or lopsided development of centers.

 One sees the symbol is worthless if you draw it literally. It isn't even a symbol anymore: it's a mish-mosh which conveys gibberish instead of harmony. So there is no choice in the matter: in order to create an effective symbol of inner work that is harmoniously balanced, the shock must be located where it is. There are no special esoteric secrets connected to this; the esoteric secret is right here on the kitchen table, where no one notices it—exactly like every other real truth in life.

I suppose some may think it a bit sad to have to take this mysterious question and reduce it to such a simple point of view—especially those on an endless quest for secret magical knowledge— but it's actually not simple at all. The most essential problem we all have in our work is that we aren't well-balanced. We aren't harmonious. And we need to keep that question in front of us at all times.

Seeing our lack is, in part, observing that imbalance up close and first-hand.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Welcome To The Machine

What a better introduction to a post about man's mechanicality than the title of the famous Pink Floyd song?

Some may view the idea of man as a machine from a pessimistic point of view; that is definitely the spin that Ouspensky put on it when he reported on his discussions with Gurdjieff.

 Nonetheless, what is often overlooked is that Gurdjieff clearly said the whole universe is a machine. Everything in it is a machine. The word itself means a construction, or contrivance, which denotes something invented skillfully, or created. So when Gurdjieff said that the universe is a machine—or that man is a machine—the actual meaning of the word (as opposed to our negative fantasies about it) simply means that man is a creation... it doesn't sound quite as exciting or alarming when you strip all of the nonsense that has been attached to it over the years away, does it?

 The idea of “escaping” from our mechanical nature by becoming conscious seems specious to me. Think about it. Gurdjieff clearly said everyone is under laws and influences, and that a man can only choose which ones he is under, at best. There isn't any escape from the machine. The whole Dharma—the entire cosmos—is the machine, and we can't escape from it without leaving it. A difficult prospect, to say the least.

Just as this oft-discussed idea of the machine is, in fact, rather weakly understood, so is the idea of consciousness. Gurdjieff clearly told Ouspensky that there are different levels of consciousness. Inferences that there is only one level, or type, of “higher” consciousness are ridiculous. Consciousness inhabits a range of circumstances, all the way from the top to the bottom of the cosmos. This hardly needs explaining, yet the word is often used as though it were a two-dimensional entity.

 One can, undoubtedly, become more or less conscious, but this is all within the context of the machine—within creation, which is what the “machine” is. Creation contains consciousness. It is not all apportioned equally, any more than matter is apportioned equally—look at all the empty space in the universe.

 This is a rather long lead-in for a much more specific and interesting question. What we don't see is that our machine—a part of us that acts mechanically, that has an automatism in it—is absolutely essential. We need it. It actually forms a critical part of our inner being—it is closely linked to what supports, oddly enough, our essence.

Think of it this way: our mechanical part, including all our habits, is a part of the inner self. It may seem outward, because it manifests outwardly, but the origin of all mechanical behavior is from the deepest part of the innermost self. That part is not an artificial or unnecessary part; it is an integral part of what is needed for the interface with outer life. It performs many functions–such as braking a car before it's too late–that could never be done without it. So it is a part of our intimate self, not our constructed self.

 I think we can probably agree that all the parts of intimate self are necessary. They simply need to be balanced. When the mechanical part of the intimate self dominates, we are creatures of habit and reaction. But the mechanical part is not the whole story of the inner self.

There can be no whole inner self (essence) without three parts to it, because it is under the law of three, like everything else. We could easily formulate the matter by understanding that the inner self has a conscious part,  a mechanical part, and a reconciling part—the same affirming, denying, and reconciling forces found at all levels of the universe. Readers can put some thought into deciding exactly which role the mechanical unconscious parts might play. There are a number of intriguing possibilities.

In the same way, there is no outer self (personality) without three parts, and there is no reconciling self without these three parts either.

In a balanced inner work (see the next post, on Saturday), we mustn't aim to dominate our mechanical nature, and we certainly don't want to tyrannize it with "terrorist attacks" by what we think of, from our professedly unconscious state, as consciousness. (This is a colorful way of saying we don't want to force anything.) The mechanical nature needs to be integrated into a whole inner self.

 In working on this, what is needed is a sympathy for, and understanding of, our mechanical nature. It isn't an enemy. It is there to support us. And it is there, whether we believe it or not, to support our efforts at consciousness, not undermine them. The difficulty is that because of its nature, it does not know how to do that. It is up to the other parts in us to develop an understanding of how to help it find its right place.

The culture of critique of mechanicality has, in my eyes, run its course. If we want to speak of a harmonious work, an integrated work, a work of understanding, we need to understand this idea quite differently than we do if we see it as an undermining factor to be expunged from our Being. And we do need to understand consciousness as an evolving and changing entity with many aspects, not some magnificent fixed state of enlightenment we are striving towards.

 The conventional conception of machinery generally conveys something fixed and rigid; these properties can be useful, but in a changing environment, they quickly become outdated.  That's why a technological society throws so many machines away. They don't know how to change.

 If our ideas become fixed and rigid, they may suffer the same fate.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reversed mythologies

Image from the Metropolitan Museum collection, New York

 Many traditions have myths about mazes, featuring innocents or heroes who trace their way to confront a diabolical threat of one kind or another. Luke Skywalker's encounter with his dark side in "Star Wars," which takes place in a swamp under the instruction of his colorful master Yoda  is a diluted version of these myths.

The framework of this ubiquitous myth is inevitably subject to multiple interpretations, but the stories, taken as a whole, can be taken as representing a necessary relation between the inner self, the outer self, and the attention— a subject frequently addressed in the work of Jean de Salzmann, as reflected in The Reality Of Being.

The myths, over the course of time, have acquired an inversion that makes this aspect of them difficult to understand. The tricky part is that the maze does not represent our inner life–or our inner demons–as George Lucas used it in Star Wars.  It represents outer life–the confusion of the phenomenal, and the many paths that it presents us with.

 The innocent, or the hero, always starts from what is a "real" place–the real world, real life, the place where one lives. Because the myth is a myth that emanates from the inner soul and the higher part of man, in this case, the outer world of the myth is our noumenal world, the intangible world that has a relationship with higher principles or with God. And the exterior world is represented by the maze–a tremendously confusing place that has a beast living in it, a beast that wants to consume all that is good and all that is pure–children (Hansel and Gretel), virgins (Theseus and the Minotaur) and so on. Outer life, if we are taken by it ( a frequent theme in de Salzmann's teaching) will eat us, it will use us as food. This stands as a close analogy to Gurdjieff's idea of the moon using man as food.

So in this myth, positions are reversed: the outside is the inside, and the inside is the outside. It's counterintuitive– in these myths, the hero isn't actually going into a maze, he's going out into ordinary life. The witches and minotaurs are the lusts, confusions and desires of everyday existence and his relationship to them.

The hero–or the innocent–has no choice but to go into the maze–and in most cases, it is done with intention.  This is certainly the case in hero (as opposed to innocent) myths. The relationship with the outer world of the maze, where everything is dangerous and confusing, is inevitable, because only by penetrating to the heart of that maze–reaching the place of origin that the danger resides in–can the innocent or the hero resolve the inherent conflict that consumes the good of the noumenal inner world.

  Another way of putting it is that the outer world represents the essence in these myths, and the inner world the personality. This is how Gurdjieff might have seen it. 
 In any event, the essential point is that the hero in the myth has to mark his way, else he be lost. There must be a trail of stones, or a thread that is spooled out behind him, some form of marker–as he goes into the maze, because otherwise he will get lost. He has to maintain a connection with his inner self.

This connection represents the attention. Mindfulness in Buddhism serves exactly the same purpose–it is a thread that connects the inner life, intentionally devoted to a higher principle, and the outer life, which has many confusing paths, most of them dead ends, and the danger that must be conquered before the world can be made whole.

The task of the attention–represented by the thread–is to trace a path between the heart of the maze–the central “meaning” of ordinary life, the locus around which it turns–and the inner life. Once the heart of the maze is reached, connected all the way through the thread to the inner world (outside the maze) then the danger is vanquished–and the beast of outer life is no longer a threat, even though it still exists. 

 The question of standing between two worlds and this idea of a "thread" of attention that connects them is essential to understanding work. One need not have a cosmic, overarching attention–the attention of saints and gurus–to begin to inhabit ordinary life. One's inner thread of attention might be a very fine thread... maybe so small as to be nearly invisible... perhaps even completely invisible to others (readers may recall that in  In Search Of The Miraculous, Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that a man who had realized himself might appear to be even more mechanical than the men around him.)

 It's cultivating this thread of attention, in the midst of ordinary life–in the midst of ordinary, unmanipulated personal manifestations–that makes a difference in understanding where we are and what we are. We hold on to the inner–gently, carefully, intelligently, intimately–and we engage in the outer, fully, honestly, according to conditions. And the thread of our attention helps us to navigate this maze, so that we remember who we are and where we are.

 One further point that may be to interest of readers is that threads have a specific symbolism of their own. A thread is not a single whole thing–it is composed of thousands of tiny fibers, spun together. In other words, in this case, the thread of attention is spun out of many small impressions. It can't exist unless our countless intimate, attentive impressions are woven together within us to create a strong fiber.

 Paramahansa Yogananda used to say that every man must cast himself in the role of the hero in his own life. The chief feature of a hero must be that he is mindful, that he is attentive. Heroic action, in the myth, doesn't necessarily consist of having a sword or killing monsters. 

The heroic action begins in having the presence of mind to keep a threat of attention that connects us.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

To Stand Between

One of the most ubiquitous themes in Jeanne de Salzmann's The Reality Of Being  is the idea of standing between two worlds. This idea comes up over and over again, presented in multiple contexts. (Chapter 43 stands as one outstanding example of such material.)

Above all, it's quite important to see that there are two worlds. Our experience may seem seamless– or we may at least think it is seamless– but it is in fact divided between two natures. When discussing this matter, it's not uncommon to think of the two natures as a "higher" nature and a "lower" nature, or to think of it as the difference between personality and essence, as Gurdjieff might have put it.

In this realm where words become difficult to apply, it's just as accurate to understand this as being an inner nature and an outer nature which meet the world... and each other.

To see is not to use one part to see the other part. "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" is not to know about dogs and their nature, and it's not to know about Buddhas and their nature; we just see both dogs and Buddhas.

We are not in the business of using the inner nature to see the outer nature, or the outer nature to see the inner nature. What sees does not belong to the outer nature or the inner nature. It belongs to itself. In the same way, the inner nature belongs to the inner nature, and the outer nature belongs to the outer nature. They belong to themselves, not to each other, and although they come into relationship with one another through the part that sees, they must not be confused with one another. If three things blend harmoniously to become one thing, that one thing is different than the three things that engendered it.

Even if there is some understanding in us regarding the two natures, there is still plenty of room for confusion. We may think the inner nature is "better" than the outer nature. It isn't; it's just quite different. The outer nature is equally vital in creating Being. Because the inner nature has definite qualities bringing it into contact with higher energies, we romance it–or let it romance us–instead of understanding it in an objective relationship, which is what seeing consists of. All of the emphasis we see around us today on new age esoteric science, yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, etc. is part of that romancing. The inner search becomes a glamour, instead of a work in relationship that requires something more of us. The grooviness of it all, one might say, is just the enemy with a nice set of clothes on.

Even more, the belief arises that the inner nature should influence the outer nature, and even direct it. Well, that is like trying to use God as a fishing pole on Sunday afternoon. When we try to make the inner go out, or we try to make the outer go in, we always end up in a mess.  We cannot do anything:  and when we begin to intervene in this way, instead of investing our effort in seeing, in standing between, many things go wrong. There are results; they are not harmonious. We need to have two natures, and not try to make one nature become another. This is the difference between the red-bearded barbarian and the barbarian with the red beard.

When we speak of seeing our lack, it isn't necessarily a lack of inner Being or a lack of outer Being. Above all, it is a lack of seeing. When seeing is weak, the belief that I can do is strong.

If I see, I don't worry so much about this. I just see.

When I see moss, it's green. It looks like it is an outer event and condition; but it is an inner event, if the impression comes in rightly... so already, even with a simple activity like looking at moss, I'm probably confused about what is inner and what is outer.  I need to be clear about the difference between the inner sensation and the inner life, and the outwardness that is inevitably and constantly required of me. I can't begin to stand between these two questions of manifestation and existence if I'm not aware of both of them at the same time.

 Perhaps a strong impression arises in meditation that somehow the meditation is addressing this question. Overall, there is a belief that sitting a lot, meditating with vigor, immerses me in what is necessary. It's not so clearly seen that what this immerses me in is largely an inner impression, which, although it definitely needs a great deal of strengthening in most cases, is just one partial element in a system of three forces.

I don't ever begin to balance this question until I act in life, until the seed of that meditation dwells actively within at the same time that all of the ordinary– and, I would like to stress this, not manipulated– activities of life are carried on.

This is a tricky thing, because the habits of every form encourage people to enthusiastically manipulate behavior to conform. The next thing you know, everyone is walking around with some variety of sage-like exterior that has been pasted over an inner and outer being that haven't actually changed very much. It's consequently possible that there are more masks and lies at work behind the closed doors of the foundations, retreats, and ashrams than there are when two ordinary people sit down for couple coffee somewhere in a shop in, for example, Manhattan. Perhaps this is why Gurdjieff valued the obyvatel—the ordinary "good householder"—over those touting lofty aspirations.

 It is impossible to stand between the inner and outer qualities we wish to nourish, to have any real sense of presence, and to see what we are if we keep dressing it up so that it will look good both to ourselves and others. If we wish to stand between and to see, we must see what we really are. This requires a willingness to relax the façades and just be freer and more natural.

In other words, to stand between involves being ourselves, being exactly what we are, and not presenting the "adjusted version" that makes us nicer, groovier, or more spiritually intelligent and magnificent. It's all right to relax within life, and to be there as it happens.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Temptation of St. Us

The Temptation of St. Antony
Martin Schongauer 

As I mentioned recently on the Parabola Facebook page, it seems difficult to see how fantastic images of temptation like the one above emerge as visual understandings gleaned from the ascetic experiences of the Desert Fathers. Unless, that is, we understand them as chaotic and amusing abstractions of the terrible mess we are in, both inside and outside.

The most famous story of temptation from the Judeo-Christian tradition is, of course, the temptation of Christ in the Desert. Christ was tempted by Lucifer personally–this wasn't a job Satan felt comfortable delegating to the colorful pack of demons St. Anthony encountered. We can reasonably suspect that this specific encounter between what one might call the highest and lowest representatives of God lent a great deal of color to later Western visual traditions on this subject.

Temptation, however, isn't out there in the desert.  Most of us are not, furthermore, likely to take off into the desert to find ourselves. (To be sure, there are those that do, but in modern society, this is overwhelmingly a matter of weekend trips.) Temptation is ubiquitous. We can find it–and it can find us–anywhere. The question of how to combat temptation–or desire–is one of the central questions of Hesychasm, a practice which has had more than a passing influence on Gurdjieff's work.

The subject of temptation is one of the central questions Christ gives us in the Lord's prayer. The word itself derives from the Latin temptare,  to handle, test, or subject to trial.

Rather than the obvious meaning of "trial," the image of temptation as something that handles, or touches, us is for me perhaps the most apt metaphor, because temptation is something that arises in the most intimate part of human beings. It may appear to come from “out there–” arise from some external source or agency (usually, in religious practices, personified as a demon or the Devil) which we can blame for its existence. But that's not the case at all. Temptation belongs to us, it is in us, and we touch ourselves with it. The temptation to assign it to an outside agent is strong, because in doing so, we need not take responsibility. In a certain way, it's not our fault we are tempted. We are, one might argue, built that way. Man is made to fall from Grace, and return to it.

  This leads me to a fundamental thought on the matter, and the central point of this essay: temptation, like practice, is intimate.

Resistance to temptation alone isn't enough; to "just say no" leads me to no real understanding of what is taking place in me. It's important I see I have a wish to avoid responsibilities; that I have a desire for desire. Another way of saying it is that I must begin to understand I have willful impulses that do not apply to any higher part. They aren't integrated into a whole understanding of what I am; I am locked in a struggle with them, but temptation is an inner struggle with myself, not between me and the suggestions of an external Devil.

This harkens back to earlier posts investigating the question of the devil as being ourselves. The image that comes to mind is that of the proper British schoolchildren, stranded on a desert island, who morph into pagans chanting “Kyrie Eleison” (Lord have Mercy) as they hunt down their fellow schoolmates to kill them in Peter Brook's famous film production of Lord Of The Flies

Perhaps the greatest danger that religious fundamentalism, in all its  Hindu, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim forms, poses to modern society–and to healthy inner work–is this consistent externalizing and blaming of a forceful weakness that originates in each of us, as was pointed out in the recent essay escape from conditions.

In the Lord's prayer, when we invoke the words, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, the trespasses may be seen as representing the debts and transgressions of temptation. We may conceive of “those” who tempt us– yet "they" are not other people, rather, parts of ourselves that lead us astray in every action, word, and circumstance. The prayer, in other words, indicates a need for us to forgive ourselves: a point that Sogyal Rinpoche made in  the Tibetan book of Living and Dying

 To depict ourselves as innocent– or wishfully innocent– beings at the mercy of demonic outside agents is to cast ourselves in the role of victims. This is way too easy... it's far more difficult, I think, to see that we ourselves own every demon that torments us. We may think we understand this, but our understanding on the matter is largely intellectual, theoretical. Getting up close and personal with it is scary... remember the famous words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

There needs to be an intimate seeing of how every temptation that arises in us belongs to us: a colorful circus occupying much of our thoughts, our imagination, and coloring our ideas about life in general. Endlessly, we tempt ourselves.

The devil didn't make me do it.

 In seeking an intimate practice that involves organic sense of self, we begin to touch questions like this more directly–in an inner sense, in places that can never be translated into essays or discussed in exchanges with other people.

Temptation is not alone within us in its intimacy. Each man and woman also has his or her own part that touches heaven; and although everything touches heaven, nothing ever touches heaven in exactly the same place as the rest of creation.

Part of the practice of intimacy is to become responsible for that contact; that particular most sacred contact which has been vouchsafed to us in our own intimate work.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

What are the Movements?

Following immediately on the moment I wrote the previous essay, the question of the Gurdjieff Movements and their possible relationship to cosmological questions came up.

Over the years, I've heard many discussions about the Gurdjieff Movements and what they represent. Being married into the Movements end of the work, I've also had the privilege of hearing many movements teachers during off-the-record discussions about the Movements; in addition, I've been  fortunate enough to take classes from some well-known and very experienced movements teachers.

The Movements are a sacred art form. What does that mean?

 The words don't necessarily mean much to us anymore; although Gurdjieff described the idea theoretically in both Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson and his conversations with Ouspensky (see In Search Of The Miraculous) few, if any, sacred art forms actually exist anymore as living traditions in any society. We see faint reflections of them in some sculpture and painting; hear echoes in some music, especially sacred hymns; and there are, of course, sacred principles embodied in the rituals of a number of religions, although many of them are simply executed by rote nowadays.

A sacred art form serves, on a larger scale, the same purpose as the small objects on my desk: it recapitulates the entire action of the universe in an interactive, living form. It embodies material: the physical objects and human beings involved, the music being played. It moves through time. And, in the wholeness and entirety of its form, it creates a harmonious relationship between those material objects through time, the entire interaction and movement thus engendering a third force that binds matter and time together. As such, every Movement– it doesn't matter which Movement, they all do this– embodies the principles of the Universal Octave in a living, real-time form.

 Movements, in other words, are each and every one of them a model of the universe.

 Sacred Movements such as the ones Gurdjieff brought us reenact the continual interaction of quanta, atoms, and molecules; they breathe life into the relationship of material over time; they reveal the sacred and evolutionary nature of form by putting it in a context that demands of us that we immediately and deeply ponder the nature of life, death, and relationship.

It's no accident that so many of the Movements incorporate elements of the enneagram and the multiplications. Gurdjieff brought to us a form that allows a group of human beings to collectively experience the concrete expression of these laws, so that instead of remaining as theoretical or  philosophical abstractions, they become proximate allegories– an expression in the immediate moment– of the forces that animate everything at all times.

It's tempting to see the Movements as "things" that exist separate from us: special activities living in a sacred, secret bubble, protected from the rest of the world, that confer magical principles. We don't see that they are, in essence, the immediate expression of life as it always is, wherever we are. A deep connection to sensation in the body will sometimes speak in that way to a man; but this is unusual. Our perception of the Sacred Movements as separate from our ordinary lives doesn't necessarily help us in attaining the kind of understanding they are there for in the first place.

 Gurdjieff used to perform the Movements very publicly. It was a way of attracting people to the work. They could see there was something different about them; and indeed there is. Unfortunately, public performances of the Movements by Gurdjieff Foundation branches have all but ceased to exist over the last twenty or thirty years. The reasons for this are many; yet how can it possibly be right?

 One might reasonably presume that Gurdjieff's behavior was to serve as a model for how we ought to handle things. We certainly take it that way when we see the examples he set us for how to work. Now,  it is just the plain fact that he had a  vigorous exoteric side to his work. He performed movements and music in public. He advertised them with flyers.  He was, in other words, not someone hiding behind closed doors.

In a day and age when every work is opening its doors, and its so-called “secrets,” to the rest of humanity, intuiting that we are at a critical moment in the work of mankind and the planet, and sensing that those of us who do work need to share everything we can in these desperate times, do we really have a right to keep this work as secret as we do?

Perhaps the answer is yes; but perhaps it isn't. This matter may be a question of life and death not just for the work itself, but for humanity. Art, after all–and perhaps, above all, sacred art–is there to be shared. It is, in point of fact, an essential exoteric form of sharing. Art that is kept secret and not put in front of others so that they can learn from it isn't art at all. It becomes a form of selfishness, denying the impulse and intent that created it.

 Hiding the Movements films in closets has not protected them, or the Movements.  Anyone can see that they are all over the Internet, and that hundreds of defecting Movements teachers have continued to teach Movements without the Foundation's permission, all over the globe. The cat, in other words, is long out of the imaginary bag we are still stuffing it in.

Furthermore, hiding such material in closets is not laying our treasures up in heaven, where they need to be laid.  I wonder- are we emulating the man who buried his coins in the field, afraid to invest them, and afraid to spend them on anything, thus earning the wrath of his master?

[Our archives are most certainly not located in heaven; I know this, because, at least in New York, I know where they are, and if that particular place is heaven, well then, hell must at the very least be a great deal more spacious; which is a good thing, judging from the number of candidates for it.]

 In order to serve the exoteric branch of the work and strengthen it, it may be time for the Gurdjieff Work to release some of this Movements film material to the general public, so that they can see what real sacred art is, and know-  at least in their heart of hearts– that not everything has been lost. Right now, the best of what we do is entombed; perhaps for the best of intentions, but I think this particular interment was unfortunately premature.

Even more to the point, it may be time to put on live public performances of the Movements again.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stories of the whole earth

Everyone has their own little habits, and one of mine is to collect natural history specimens and small, appealing objects– up to and including what are, more or less, ordinary stones and beach pebbles– which I select specifically because of their aesthetic qualities. Sometimes those qualities are subtle and not immediately apparent. It can take some time to penetrate past the surface of appearances and understand that a single fold in a carapace or the rounded curve of a piece of glacial debris may speak in a language I am not familiar with.

I arrange these in front of me on my desk, so that they are just under my gaze as I work on my computer. Each one of them ultimately serves as an object of contemplation of one kind or another, and I refer to them repeatedly throughout every day.

Each of the objects that I keep in front of me is, in its own way, a complete representation of the entire cosmos. They all represent objects, events, conditions, and circumstances; each one of them contains a conjunction of elements, formed over time, arranged through conditions, meeting in circumstances, to form objects. Every one of these objects contains all of the thoughts about the whole universe in it: the fact that the human mind is unable to encompass all of that information, that inwardly formed quality, at one time does not mean it is not there.

In a state of what is called “enlightenment”–which is what Buddhists would insist is only just the ordinary state that the mind always ought to inhabit, but doesn't–the mind could and would comprehend this. Bokusan says, "As one dharma is no other than myriad dharmas, whatever you realize embraces all the ten directions. In this way, to intuit... intimately" is essential." (Dogen's Genjo Koan: three commentaries, p. 54, Counterpoint-Berkeley 2011. The entire commentary in section 7, pp. 51-54, expounds on the subject of this essay.)

Perhaps my fascination with each object is that, unique as it is, it can't exist without any other objects or all other objects–it is in irrevocable relationship to them through the confluence of time, matter, and the reconciling force of love.

In some ways, each of these objects represents that reconciling force to me, since each one of them, whether it is man-made, naturally formed, or the product of evolutionary biology, expresses a perfection that is unique unto itself. Each of those perfections has a tale of billions of years behind it that includes the collapse of cosmic dust clouds, the formation of stars, the forging of elements, the creation of planets from those elements, and the re-arrangement of those elements into forms which go against the force of entropy to discover expressions that would remain unseen, unknown, and nonexistent but for the arising of consciousness to perceive them.

 Consciousness arises specifically to perceive these things; it is not an accident. There is a need for all of these expressions of perfection to be perceived. In a subtle way, each one of them– every single thing, no matter how small– is both worthy of perception and has a wish to be perceived, just as the perceiver wishes to see. It is where the wish to see comes into conjunction with that which can be seen and wishes to be seen that the whole of the universe exists.

Without consciousness, you see, there is no universe–there is nothing. This is a philosophical conundrum that materialists generally fail to address, because reductionist materialism and atheism are fundamentally unable to come to grips with questions this subtle.

Small things in life are often dismissed. Few human beings look at an ancient seashell on a desk, scrutinize the many tiny marine worm holes in it, the rounded grains of quartz, and understand that the entire universe is unfolding itself in these apparently insignificant records. The original Zen schools in China understood this; perhaps this is why they held ordinary rounded stones from riverbeds in such high regard, putting them on pedestals as single objects for contemplation. We have few such parallels in the West. We have far more of an interest in coercing objects to do what we want them to than in appreciating them for what they are.

Scientists of the West do appreciate that the contemplation of any single object, rightly undertaken, can open a set of questions that unfold into every corner of the cosmos. Nonetheless, most of them have taken an unfortunately materialistic attitude towards this property; they fail to see that a sense of wonder is a sacred property, and that that sense of wonder itself is transcendental. Like religion, secularism brings a set of great strengths to the table that are offset by an equal number of weaknesses.

Our technology and reliance on consumer goods  is progressively separating us from any understanding and contemplation of the natural world. We lose this sense at our great peril.

 So the next time you pass something small and apparently insignificant, take a moment to stop and study it and ask yourself questions.

You may be surprised at where they take you.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Beelzebub's Tales: Cosmologies In Literature

  This essay is part of a series of discussions on the exoteric nature and aim of the Gurdjieff work, and inner work in general. That portion of the work may seem unimportant to some; and indeed, it is often neglected, especially in the Gurdjieff work. However, the old saying, “weak in life–weak in the work” indicates that a strong exoteric practice is in fact essential– a fact often lost on those who sink into themselves into a rapture of contact with the divine. It might even be argued that understanding this point of work is in fact essential to everything that both Gurdjieff and Jeanne de Salzmann were trying to teach.

 Readers encountering the following material should consequently understand that this is not about the esoteric sides of the book, Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, which are vitally important and, for the greater part, not subject to verbal redaction. The book is, however, one of the most important and powerful faces put on the exoteric side of the Gurdjieff work, and a failure to both understand and value that side of its nature is a profound disservice to the effort at large.

My daughter Rebecca is a PhD candidate in English literature at Brown University. One of her associates is also in the PhD program, and a Milton scholar. Over the last few weeks, the three of us discussed the subject of major works in the Western literary canon containing complete cosmologies. We were speaking specifically of works of fictional literature, not treatises or philosophical discourses.

The list of works in this category is surprisingly short. What we were able to come up with as definitively belonging were Milton's Paradise Lost, Dante's Divine Comedy, and Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson. There may be other works of this nature, particularly in the modern world of science fiction, but they are inherently disqualified, since inventive cosmology is a prerequisite of science fiction, and is rarely– if ever– based on any presumed connection to actual reality.

Given that caveat, we discussed the inclusion of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, but more or less disqualified it, because this is essentially a mythological reconfiguration of the story of Christianity, not a revelation related to the structural nature of the universe. In addition,

The only other work that comes to mind is a recent one- Carlos Castaneda's A Separate Reality and other books in the series.

Very few authors, in other words, have had the audacity or the vision to present a complete cosmology of the kind that Gurdjieff advances in Beelzebub. Thus, although the work does not stand alone literature, it finds itself in relatively rarefied company.

I've pointed out before that Beelzebub's Tales  is not, in fact, a unique and completely unclassifiable piece of literature, but, reasonably considered, firmly planted (and planted very early) in the genre of magical realism. The character of Beelzebub uses one of the typical devices of this genre: a protagonist who lives far longer than ordinary humans. What sets this particular work apart from other magical realism is its comprehensive focus on cosmology; one, furthermore, deeply tied into religious traditions from all parts of the world. It is, in other words, magical realism with an open stated aim and purpose, rather than just a work of fantasy for entertainment. It certainly careens in and out of didactic territory; nonetheless, any cosmological expose does so.

Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson bears more kinship to Dante's Divine Comedy and A Separate Reality than it does to Paradise Lost, because both Dante, Gurdjieff, and Castaneda employ the device of first-person narrative, presenting the reader with an unmediated, self-aware narrator. Milton, on the other hand, presents us with a third-person narrative more on the order of an imaginative and theatrical recapitulation of Christian doctrine, cast in a mythological atmosphere.

Both Gurdjieff, Dante, and Castaneda, on the other hand, present structural cosmologies with an intimate critique of contemporary human behavior. Their protagonist's intersections and interactions with our own world engender more immediate, practical, and powerful metaphors.

This is not to lessen the enormous achievement Milton sets before us, but rather to highlight the differences between the texts. The purpose here is not, in any event, to justify or evaluate Milton or Dante's place in the canon of Western literature, but merely to point out that Gurdjieff and Castaneda rightly earn a place beside these two giants with their work.

Although Castaneda's books certainly contain a legitimate literary cosmology, and present many fascinating ideas, they seem to me to lack the essential mythological core underlying the other three works. One's concern would center around the feeling that these books are more a form of pop art–works of popular culture, cast in the new age mold–than they are serious, world-class literature. On the other hand, being a product of their own time, perhaps this is an entirely appropriate guise for them to assume. Only the test of time will tell.

 In the meantime, it seems apparent that the literary world has not properly or appropriately evaluated Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson  in the context of Milton and Dante, even though this subject seems to have the potential for more than a few PhD theses.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What is the inner life?

Maybe I am clueless–in fact, it's certain that I am clueless, in many situations–but it never occurred to me, in the past series of posts, that any confusion would arise between what inner and outer Being might consist of, or that questions might arise as to whether we do in fact have an inner and an outer Being.

 The idea of the inner self is, after all, so ubiquitous in religion and esoteric practice that one assumes most of us are familiar with what that is; or at least have an idea that the concept is valid. Yet I discovered that friends and acquaintances were asking me what the inner self is, or even unable to say whether they thought they had one or not. This includes people who have spent the majority of an adult lifetime in an inner work.

 Do we distinguish between our inner and outer work? Do we have a clear understanding of the idea that both exist?

When I speak of intimate practice, as I often do, I speak of a part within that is quite different than this part that runs life. It is a part that does not fare well, as Ravi Ravindra once said, "under the cold light of analysis." It is that part that can't be expressed in words.

 The intimate practice is the silent part of the self that receives. It is the part that is fed most by impressions; it is an inwardly formed vibration that fills the body. It is definitely connected to the organic sense of being; all of the work we do with sensation, which is voluntary from the exoteric side of our work, eventually feeds and, with work, awakens this esoteric side of sensation, which then becomes voluntary from the esoteric side. The inner self, in other words, with enough food, awakens to reciprocally participate in action of the whole.

 This part is sacred and intimate, and reaches towards the higher, pressing against the cloud of unknowing. It is active and sensate; it does not think in the way we think, it does not know in the way we know, it does not act in the way we act. Nevertheless, it is the same as us: it is us.

This part does think, it does act, it does know. But it is quite different than that outward part which is so easily consumed by the events in  external life.  It is not strong: we have been feeding our outer life for many years without attending to it properly. But it is there, a friend or lover that always waits for us, no matter how thick and uncomprehending we are, no matter how unfaithful we are.

This is a side of ourselves that we, perhaps, do not know or rarely see;  nonetheless, it is that most vital part that prays in secret and is rewarded in secret. It is what writes the poetry, sings the hymns, and mediates the remorse of conscience.  iI there is an inner heaven to lay our treasures up in, it is here. If there is anything that crafts a higher relationship in man, it is here.  When there is exquisite joy, it is here. When there is exquisite sorrow, it is also here. Every real pearl encountered in a lifetime is found on this string, and this string alone.

If we don't know this part, it doesn't make us inadequate, insufficient, or inferior. It simply means that more effort is needed on our part. And this exoteric part of us–this outer part, which so clearly and definitely wishes to contact something higher–well, this is the part we have that can do the work to try and help us connect to this inner understanding and this inner experience. The experience is real and true; anyone who works can eventually come to this.  It is said that we can come to this Way through five things: trust, certainty, patience, resolution, and veracity. (Ibn 'Arabi, Sufis of Andalusia, p. 23, Suhail Academy, Lahore 1985.) 

 The part that sees is not the same as our inner self or our outer self. This may not seem easy to understand, or be clear to us, unless we already understand a clear distinction between the inner and the outer parts; nonetheless, as has been indicated in earlier essays on these questions, it is definitely a different element in the tripartite composition of our inner life... one perhaps directly related to Gurdjieff's "deputy steward." Jeanne de Salzmann makes this abundantly clear in her repeated references to the need to stand between the inner and the outer in our work. This place between two worlds is occupied by an awareness different than the awareness of the one world, and equally different than the awareness of the other.  That awareness is part of what helps to, as is mentioned in Views From The Real World, "separate oneself from oneself."  This standing between two worlds also occupies a significant meaning relative to the work outlined by the author of the Cloud Of Unknowing.

The simplest way to explain this is to refer readers to page 1091 of Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, in which he clearly indicates that man has three brains ("center of gravity localizations.") We can readily liken the inner, outer, and seeing manifestations of a man to this system of three minds, in which the harmonious interaction of the three leads to a fourth, "real," or transcendent mind, which according to the Law of Emergence has properties that manifest on a level higher than any of the three brains or minds can when acting independently.

 Human beings readily exercise the exoteric part of their being. That's where most everyone is stuck. Monastics and contemplatives exercise the esoteric part of their being, sometimes at the expense of the exoteric.  Take note, for example, the following quote:

"In making bread, water represents the active force, flour the passive force, and fire the neutralizing force. Bread is the independent result, the fourth element arising from the action of these three forces. Each of the three forces is necessary for the bread to be made; if one of them is missing there will not be bread...  Once made, bread has a fate of its own."
 "What is difficult to understand is the nature of the river we spoke of earlier and the possibility of leaving it so that crystallization can take place. As you are now, you cannot do it; nor do you see the unfortunate consequences of not understanding this idea. It was precisely this lack of understanding that caused an asceticism to arise in many monasteries, where the monks too often exhausted themselves instead of developing.” - G. I. Gurdjieff, from "Gurdjieff: A Master In Life, Tcheslaw Tchekhovitch, p. 56-57, Dolmen Meadows Editions 2006.

 Until the distinction between an intimate inner and active outer nature is clear,  it remains as a vitally important point of our work.

In working, do not neglect this intimate action.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The question of outer action

It is sometimes said that every religion or work has three natures: an outer nature, an intermediary nature, and an inner nature.

When Gurdjieff described these three natures to Ouspensky, he called them the exoteric, mesoteric, and  esoteric circles of a work.

 While I was pondering this question this morning, it occurred to me that there are parallels in Buddhism–and in Christianity–that may help inform us on the structural nature of the question. The Buddhists have a well-known saying: “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sanga." The Christians refer to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Either way, there is the idea of a Trinity of investment: the inhabitation of three different aspects.

The inhabitation of three different aspects is a union of three different aspects. In the case of the Buddhists, the Buddha is an intercessor or–an intermediary–between the community (Sangha) and the absolute (the Dharma.) I believe we might agree that the concept of Christianity is not that different. Christ is the intercessor between the community of the Holy Spirit, and the Absolute, that is, God the Father. In each case, it is recognized that the full inhabitation and relationship of all three forces is necessary, and that a personified, objective, or intimate, intercessor or or agent is necessary. (I use the words personified, objective, and intimate because they each have a different nature, and all of them are true unto themselves, within context.)

Exoteric action is the action of the community. We can call it the Sangha; we can call it the Holy Spirit. Both are valid. In each case, there is an external action, an action of relationship in community, which we must inhabit in our spiritual work. In a certain not so abstract sense, this is actually is the locus of work for any Fourth Way work, that is, work in life. So we cannot ignore the community.

Mesoteric action is the action of the individual and the intercessor. An agency of help from a higher level that helps us see becomes an active force in the intersection of exoteric action and esoteric action. We are called to stand between two worlds: and we call on the example, or help of, the Buddha or Christ to support us in this work. It's another facet, another aspect, of the Lord have Mercy prayer. It is also the very work that Jeanne de Salzmann calls us to in The Reality Of Being. We are asked to stand between two worlds, to help join the inner and the outer, which need to be in relationship. This relationship cannot arise without the intercession of a third force– and we become personally responsible for the action of that third force. The two worlds cannot join and create a whole without our action. So we have to exert action in three directions: we are required to exert exoteric action, in the community; we are required to exert mesoteric action, which joins the community to the higher; and we are required to exert esoteric action, which is a deep inner personal effort to come into relationship with the highest possible principle.

Esoteric action is an action directed towards the higher. Of course this is essential, but it is powerless without the other two elements. It might as well be locked up in a cave. And this is hardly where it wants to be. The esoteric has every wish to come into a full relationship with the exoteric, but it can't do so without the action of the mesoteric- that is, our own effort.

I took up this line of questioning specifically because my question to myself this morning was exactly what the nature of the exoteric work the Gurdjieff work ought to be engaged in is. It strikes me that Christians and Buddhists both have a strong sense of what exoteric work in their community, in relationship to other communities, consists of.  The exoteric face of a work may not be where the romance lies, but it is what confers cultural strength, and without cultural strength, a work dies.

We must ask ourselves whether there hasn't been a gradual weaking of vision in terms of the understanding of exoteric action on the part of the Gurdjieff work over the last thirty or forty years. Gurdjieff himself had a strong understanding of it, but corresponding shocks to maintain that didn't arise, even though shocks that preserved and grew the esoteric end of the work were consistent and powerful.

Consequently, while a deep understanding of the aim of esoteric work and what it means to the individual has grown considerably over the years inside the Gurdjieff community, there has been an overall lack of concerted attention to exoteric work, and there is consequent confusion about what it should mean and what it might consist of.

The work has deep esoteric aims related to higher levels; that is one thing. But, as the essay on escape from conditions points out, this does not issue an excuse from action in the ordinary world. We need to ask ourselves what our action here, in the ordinary world, on a horizontal level, ought to be. How do we put our community in relationship with the spiritual community at large? This needs to be understood from several points of view, not just the point of view of responsibility, but also the point of view of aim. What is the exoteric aim of the work? And if we don't quite know— well, isn't it our responsibility to form one?

Or should we just wrap ourselves in warm blankets and sit together quietly?

One exoteric aim of the work might be to help other paths see how we are all joined together. (And that is, indeed, the heart of the effort undertaken by Parabola magazine for over three decades now.) We are uniquely positioned at the heart of a higher understanding that emanated from what Gurdjieff called influences "C.” At this level of understanding, we're told, all religious efforts are one effort. A compassionate and intelligent exoteric action on the part of the Gurdjieff work could be to make every effort to help all works see one another as one. Of course it's a lofty goal, and an unattainable aim; yet every step in that direction intelligibly serves, and service must be one of the chief considerations in undertaking a legitimate exoteric work.

Because of its comprehensive nature, and its sensitivity to the question of wholeness and partiality, we're in a unique position to use our skills and insights in service to the religious community at large in this manner. There is no need to "sell" the Fourth Way or act as a recruitment center; instead, using our own efforts to understand in light of Mr. Gurdjieff's teachings and system, we may be able to help others in their own search, by connecting it to everyone else's. We may, with the tools and insights we've been given, be able to help put the humpty-dumpty of mankind's religious practice back together again.

Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson is, at least in some measure, a step in that direction; and since Mr. Gurdjieff clearly intended this book to be a serious part of the exoteric, public face of his work, part of his exoteric aim for this work must have leaned in that direction.

The ideas in the Gurdjieff work are like ligaments. Do we each personally represent agents and forces that can help those ligaments do their job to reconnect the spiritual parts of the body of humanity?

It's worth considering.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Next essay: Jan. 14: What is the inner life?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Look From Above

Dish with floral designs on an olive background
Iran, Safavid period (1501-1722)
 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The question of exoteric, mesoteric,  and esoteric work is intimately tied into the Law of Three and the Way that it acts.  Before readers continue with this essay, they ought to take a look at the following diagram of the relationships between esoteric, exoteric, and mesoteric forces.

The critical point of this diagram is that in it, the mesoteric force– the force which stands between and acts as the reconciling factor between the inner and the outer worlds– is found at the note "do."

To stand between– to see, which is the paramount activity  which both Gurdjieff and Jeanne de Salzmann called us to– is to occupy this note, this vibration from a higher level, which both begins and ends the octave. Seeing, even on this level, is already at the same note of identity, the beginning, as the energy from the higher level that opens the initial impulse of the octave. (Readers will recall that Gurdjieff specifically told Ouspensky that every note in an octave is the "do" for an octave below it. See the  diagram of the fractal enneagram.)

So when we engage in the act of seeing, even in an ordinary way and on our own level–that is to say, without any pretentious ideas that we're doing something special from a higher level, or experiencing the “look from above” that de Salzmann speaks of in The Reality of Being–we are already engaged in an activity connected, through relationship of vibration, to the entire Ray of Creation–since each note in the Ray of Creation is the "do" for an entire octave of its own.

And the consistent resonance of "do" reaches upwards and downwards through the entire structure.

 Astute readers will immediately see echoes here of the many different traditions that do not inherently distinguish between the identity of man or his consciousness and God; the insistence among Zen Buddhists that there can be no essential difference, real or imagined, between enlightenment and non-enlightenment; and so on. The point is that whether or not we are conscious of it, we are (as Dogen repeatedly points out) already representatives of enlightenment— or, put otherwise, share an identity with God.

 All of that sounds very nice, but, I'm sure you are thinking, we don't make very good Gods. Look at what a mess we're in.

And that's quite true. The question we face here is our need to strengthen the reconciling force, rather than focusing on our outwardness or our inwardness.  That is done by seeing: an intentional act of attention, or mindfulness. Such action is essential in practices ranging from Christianity (such as the philokalia) to Buddhism. And to engage in this action in ordinary life, at an ordinary level, already creates a consonance of harmony between the parts that can help to receive echoes of the higher "do" that engendered the octave in the first place.

A harmonious blending of the inner and the outer by an awareness that participates creates a whole entity that becomes more open to influences of a higher level. This awareness, or mindfulness, is the essential third element; and the law of three is the engine that turns the wheel of the Dharma, providing the shocks that allow the octave to develop.

This means that even the most ordinary activity, with mindfulness, helps our work. It also means that, whether we are aware of it or not, our action and our being is fundamentally inspired by the divine and is always reaching back towards it, no matter how lowly or confused our action is. (This is a point I think Brother Lawrence might be quite in agreement with.) Hence discounting our ordinary action would be a terrible mistake. We need it– it needs us– and the divine influence needs it as well. In reality, there is no way to look down on the ordinary except through hubris.

Withdrawing from a strong, practical exoteric action– trying to eliminate the ego, rather than help it be what it is and help our work– weakens the interaction. One needs a robust and well formed outer life for inner work to become whole. Hence Gurdjieff's absolutely right emphasis on conscious egoism.

 To be sure, the tendency is to emphasize too much one or the other. It's the balance that counts–and  seeing, self-remembering, helps to naturally establish that balance. Without it, the inner and outer qualities of a man remain locked in a struggle that may cost one— or both of them— their lives.

In the same way that this is true for an individual, it is also true for esoteric works. Esoteric works that lean too hard on the inner nature of work, neglecting outer responsibility– which must always manifest as a form of service– inevitably weaken and fall down, because the part that is supposed to be active, conscious, and seeing, has no strong exoteric material to put demands on it and balance the esoteric portion of the work.

 Work, in other words, whether for an individual or a community, must be balanced between these three forces. If one loses any one of the threads here, many things suddenly become quite impossible, no matter how sincere the work is, and no matter how good the intentions are.

 Subsequent essays over the next week will be exploring the possible natures and meanings of exoteric work for specific aspects of the Gurdjieff practice. Readers must keep in mind that these are not conclusions: they are questions, suggestions, explorations. What follows, is, in other words, a work in progress for the community.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Briar Patches

Parabola recently published a link to Bob Thurman and the Dalai Lama's discourse on the Kalachakra on the Parabola Facebook page.

A few of the comments in it are worth examining relative to my recent essays on the law of three and the nature of time.

Thurman remarks (see 2:40 onwards) that time is, in the Kalachakra, viewed as infinitely compassionate. Gurdjieff, on the other hand, characterizes time as the “Merciless Heropass”– not a compassionate force at all, but, instead, an objective one.

The difference is interesting, given that some of Gurdjieff's cosmology appears to be derived from Tibetan sources. For example, one distinct connection between the Kalachakra and the Gurdjieff work is that, in the tradition, the Kalachakra originated as a work in life (see the “history and origin” section in this Wikipedia link.) The Kalachakra tantra, furthermore, emphasizes the similarities and correspondence between human beings and the cosmos–yet another striking point of similarity to Gurdjieff's cosmology as he expounded it to Ouspensky in In Search Of The Miraculous.  Finally, we might consider Thurman's remarks about time as a machine (3:50) whose ultimate action is to liberate Beings from suffering. If we are going to characterize the universe and the flow of time as a machine, I believe we can agree this at least presents a more optimistic point of view than Ouspensky did in his treatment of the same subject.

How could these exalted sources possibly get it wrong- or, to put it more bluntly, how dare a slug like me exercise so much chutzpah as to suggest the Dalai Lama and Thurman are mistaken?

 Well then, dear readers.  Put your incredulity aside for just a moment and allow me to try and explain. While most of what they say about compassionate practice and a positive view of time is quite wonderful, understanding this question without understanding it from the point of view of the law of three and the universal octave may cause us to fall into the briar patch.

The Dalai Lama is entirely correct in referring to a universal force of compassion; nonetheless, Thurman ascribes this force to the action of time, instead of understanding the action of time as the formation of intelligence, which informs, but does not create, compassion. Compassion belongs to Love, which stands at the apex of the triangle in the law of three and is the reconciling force between matter and time.

Time is indeed a devourer, but this is not a negative characteristic, as suggested in the video. Nor is it a characteristic that needs to be "overcome." It is merely an existing characteristic, assuming- like Love and Matter- positive, negative, and reconciling roles by turn, in relationship to conditions. (In the action of the law of three, these three characteristics are not fixed, but fluid. Love, Time, and Matter each represent what Gurdjieff would have called "completed triads," that is, each one by itself is a harmonious blend of positive, negative, and reconciling elements. Each one has the capacity to express one of those three qualities in active manifestation, as necessary and appropriate in relationship to the actively expressed character of its partner elements in the triad.)

Manifestation and dissolution (form and non-form) are both real, and inescapable, as expounded in Dogen's Great Practice, found in the Shobogenzo. The action of going beyond– an essential Buddhist understanding– is where the question of compassion enters, as it balances the universal forces of creation and destruction.

What can we learn from this?

The law of three never excludes. It always integrates. Hence, every force is folded in to an action in relationship. There is no need to understand time as positive or negative; it is included in the whole of the force needed to turn the wheel of Dharma. It cannot act, however, without relationship to both matter (material reality) and compassion, or love.

 Understanding time as a being food of the universe, in the Gurdjieffian tradition, helps us to understand that awareness outside of time is not intelligent. Information–that which is inwardly formed–cannot act or produce a result in relationship without time. One might say, in some senses, that the wisdom, or intelligence, needed to inform compassion is discovered and developed within the properties of time. It's equally true that the power of expression is embodied in material reality.  In other words, the shocks in the universal octave describe and embody the three main paths Gurdjieff laid out as the foundations of yoga– the Way of the Fakir,  the Way of the Monk, and the Way of the Yogi.

Combining all three Ways into a “Fourth Way” gives us the path of the whole dharma– and Gurdjieff's law of three is the engine that turns the wheel of dharma.

While I liked the video and its overwhelmingly positive message (it's a little difficult to take a position against world peace, try though we may) its overwhelming emphasis on the "total positivity of time" raises some questions for me.  To indicate that the ultimate action of time is to liberate beings into their "highest bliss" or their own “deepest reality” may be true- readers must decide for themselves- yet we might consider resisting the temptation to label this as “positive,”  since it implies a polarity, an inherent duality, rather than an absolute objectivity, which– like the Dharma– encompasses everything, all Truth.

Here, I think, the message departs from both the deepest and most esoteric Buddhist doctrine, as well as Gurdjieff's vision of the universe. To say that everything is working towards a final “positive” outcome, rather than an outcome which is simply whole, appears to be a message designed more for its populist appeal than an objective vision of transcendence. Transcendence, after all, goes beyond positives and negatives–one of the main points of Zen Buddhist discourse, as expounded by Dogen and one, I believe, that even Tibetan Buddhists may agree on.

And we cannot come to grips with Gurdjieff's ideas about the Sorrow of His Endlessness if everything is ultimately going to turn out, as he would say, “roses, just roses.”

 Don't get me wrong. I am all for a universe of loving compassion, and positive outcomes. These constructs are, however, inventions of the conceptual mind. In the end, what we seek is a mystery, and that mystery transcends the limitations of our ordinary understanding.

My overall concern here is that presenting Buddhist practice, one of the most deeply esoteric and richest traditions in the world, as some kind of fairytale where “everything comes out all right in the end” may play well to audiences, but has the unfortunate potential to sell both the practice, and its meaning, short.

Buddhist philosophy and practice– like the Gurdjieff work– is not merely a facile means of ensuring a final positive result.

Its aim is to help us see Truth.

I respectfully ask you to take good care.