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.


  1. What I would like to do is to support your contention about the ideas of esoteric, mesoteric and exoteric utilizing concepts from the dynamics of Chinese alchemical thinking, especially regarding the diagram which although I cannot reproduce here, is known as the “fish diagram” and which is a circle which is divided in half by a backwards S where the light half, which is considered Yang has a dark eye in it and the other half which is dark has a light eye or circle in it.

    This common picture which most people see as the relationship between the dualities of light and dark; masculine and feminine; active and passive, is really a picture of 3 forces, the 3rd force is Mr. Gurdjieff put it, hidden or, perhaps better put, NOT SEEN, because we are “3rd force blind”.

    The movements study which unfortunately has been translated in the West as tai chi chuan, (a misnomer) should be spoken of as Tai Ji Chuan, as the middle word in these 2 renderings are completely different–the 1st, chi, or Qi, originally was a picture of steam coming off of cooked rice, which as an ideogram represented the energy and the energetics of nutrition and of the body.

    The word Ji, on the other hand, has the meaning of limit, or further most extension. This is the proper terminology for the “slow-motion boxing” which we see people practice. If you study the diagram or Chinese Alchemical Medicine, you will learn that the Yang meridians travel to the outer edges of the body such as the fingertips or toes, then turn around in the other direction as Yin meridians.

    If you stand up with your hands held over your head, Yang comes down the back of the hands over the forearms and down the back all the way past the heel and to the toes where it turns into Yin, which travels up the front of the body around the ankle and over the shin and thigh with some meridians going through the underarms and down the inside of the arms again to the fingertips were they turn around and become yang.

    Other meridians continue up the neck and complexity of the head to reach the very top where there is a acupuncture point called "Bai Hua", which means “meeting of the thousand".

    Interestingly, one can note that in the system of Chakras, the one at the top of the head is called "Sahasrara", which means thousand.

  2. Pt2:
    Leaving off the limbs for a moment and speaking only of the energy going around the torso and over the head and under the genitals, we have a circulatory path commonly called the microcosmic cycle; including the limbs, the traversing of energies is called the macrocosmic cycle. Depending on direction, these are known as either FIRE or WATER paths.

    As I said, I do not have the means to put the actual diagram in the comment, but I often draw it and ask my students to locate the 3rd force. Very few of them find it, because it is the moving backwards S that stands between the Yin and Yang that is the 3rd force, and Tai Ji Chuan, aside from its martial applications is a profoundly spiritual practice. By slowing the movements down, one can see more clearly that as one extends the limbs outwardly, they are Yang, whereas withdrawing the limbs towards the torso is Yin.

    Before going further, I want to elucidate some of the meaning which is usually attributed to the word "Chuan", or "Fist"; making a fist can also be known as: "I hold myself". I can give this example–if I make a fist I have eliminated the use of my fingers, so I would have a very hard time counting coins or pickpocketing someone. This is the esoteric meaning of the word "Chuan". Tai means grand ultimate, Ji means limit, and Chaun means “I hold myself”. In other words, Tai Ji Chuan can also be known as the practice where in slow motion, "I STAND AND HOLD MYSELF WITHIN THE GRAND ULTIMATE LIMIT".

    When a man walks is unconscious of the fact that his weight is shifting from foot to foot back and forth. Of this shifting he is completely unconscious. HE DOES NOT WALK CONSCIOUSLY.

    If he gets into a fist fight, his fists move out to strike his opponent, and if there is no opponent his center of gravity will cause him to fall over. So there is an ultimate limit to his movements. He cannot jump into the sky either.

    If studied in this way, a man can find the 3rd force in all of his motions. As he walks or as he moves his limbs In and Out he can become aware of his ALWAYS obeying the limits of his circumference. If he continues to study himself in this manner, always looking for the "TURN"; that is, when Yin turns to Yang and vice-versa, he may begin to SEE BETWEEN; TO STAND BETWEEN what formerly seemed as opposites.

    When so many who met Mr. Gurdjieff remarked on how he seemed feline in his movements, like a Tiger, they can have been describing nothing else but a man who stood BETWEEN, and who taught from the third force itself.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.