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.

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