Monday, April 30, 2012

A misleading situation

 Today's post is a page torn from the skeptic's diary.

It is wise to use caution when reading Ouspensky's In Search Of The Miraculous. This seminal book on the principles of the Fourth Way, published in 1949—two years after the author's death—has had an undeniable influence on the understanding of the system. Nonetheless, the text leaves us with many questions that ought to be asked, instead of taking it as gospel.

First of all, Ouspensky wrote about many things in this book which he had no real experience with. He was repeating hearsay; things Gurdjieff told him which he never had the chance to verify for himself. The instances of this are too numerous to count. As a reporter, he did what we have to assume was a responsible job of repeating what Gurdjieff said—after all, Gurdjieff endorsed the book and even used it on some occasions with his students—but he was repeating things, not understanding them. This leaves open the distinct likelihood that he serially misunderstood much of what was being said.

 Secondly, the book was clearly written long after the meetings described in it took place. It presents us with many extensive and complex quotes of what Gurdjieff said, supposedly verbatim, where—unless Ouspensky had an eidetic memory of the very first order ( unlikely, since by his own confession, he certainly couldn't remember himself)—it is patently impossible that he remembered the exact words in such detail.

 Third, it is a snapshot of a moment in time at which Gurdjieff was first introducing the ideas of the Fourth Way to the Western world. Not only was Gurdjieff not infallible—he even wrote and published texts, such as his Herald of Coming Good, which he later repudiated—his work was an evolving entity with an evolving understanding. While the essential ideas of it remained intact throughout his lifetime, the details underwent changes as Gurdjieff's own understanding deepened—as it had to. After all, as his designated heir and chief pupil Jeanne de Salzmann said, everything is constantly in movement, going up or down. If one does not deepen one's understanding, one loses it. A master of Gurdjieff's order doesn't squat on his inner laurels and pontificate.

 Fourth, there are specific and distinct instances where Ouspensky just got his facts wrong. That's all there is to it. He wasn't infallible either. Even worse, he tried to put many things into words that definitely can't be expressed verbally. He discusses and explains states—putting words in Gurdjieff's mouth—without ever having experienced them, and tragically misunderstands how inaccurate any verbal description of them could be. The end result is a misleading situation: a situation in which the reader thinks they are being given accurate summations of extremely complex inner realizations, which can only be arrived at after many years of intensive inner work, and never exactly resemble the descriptions in any texts, of any kind, whatsoever.

Readers who take the book up thinking that it is gospel, or that the understandings in it are comprehensive and conclusive, fail to understand the book taken from the point of view of its own title: fragments of an unknown teaching. The book is fragmentary; many of the things that it describes fall well outside the writer's (and the reader's) personal range of experience, and will always do so, because it describes states of consciousness and cosmological understandings that represent the summary of thousands of years of inner research by literally millions of individuals and esoteric schools.

 This is not to say that the book does not have a value; far from it. One must, however, read it from the point of view of those who question; a great deal of it needs to be challenged, in both an inner and an outer sense, and we must ask ourselves whether this is truly the right place to glean an understanding of the Fourth Way. The book is not anything on the order of Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson.

 Longtime readers may recall that I was one of the principal sound editors on the release of the  recordings of Peggy Flinsch's comprehensive reading of the book. I was present at the luncheon at her house which was thrown in celebration of the wrap-up and publication of the project. She made extensive remarks about the nature of the book and her experience with it that afternoon. She was one of the people Gurdjieff designated as a reader in the United States during the initial work on the book. Due to her  early exposure to the book and her unusually long life (she died at 102,) she  almost certainly had more years of experience working with Beelzebub than any other speaker of the English language.

 One of the things she emphatically told us was that the Gurdjieff organizations and students have, on the whole, a deeply mistaken impression about the importance and meaning of In Search of the Miraculous. Many, she said, take this book as though it were somehow of the same order as Beelzebub. This is not, she insisted, the case. The books are as different as night and day; one is, as she said, "a very good book," the other one is an esoteric work of the highest order.

I have to agree with her. Ouspensky's book, for all its structural value, is nothing more than an intellectual redaction of the Fourth Way. From a certain point of view, it has all the relevance to real life of a chemistry textbook... which is what a significant portion of it actually ends up being.

Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, on the other hand, is a piece of work directly from Gurdjieff's own hand—comprehensively eliminating any questions about its accuracy or provenance—and is furthermore a book emanating directly from what Gurdjieff called “influences three,” that is, inspired by the absolute highest source.

Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, furthermore, takes unto itself an aim so high that it eclipses Ouspensky's magnum opus. The book is an effort to repair the rent fabric of the world's major religions, and restore their essential core to them. It's furthermore a completely original attempt at this; the book  quite intentionally sets itself apart from and outside all of the major religious streams by invoking Beelzebub himself in the title.

Smart move, that. Dr. Welch was fond of saying that every man has an angel on one shoulder, and the devil on the other.

The devil, you can trust.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why is there sorrow?

When we examine the question of “as above, so below"—the fractal nature of the universe, and the fact that every portion of it reflects the whole—we come back to the essential dilemma of man's inner struggle to know himself, and how it relates to the whole.

Sorrow arose from the very instant that the universe was created, because God, upon achieving the infinite feat of creation, did so knowing that there would forever be a separation between himself and his creation. Creation itself created a discontinuity, a disconnect, in the Supreme and Divine consciousness. The mind of God—the supreme and unknowable Intellect—acquired a body, the material reality that arises as a result of the collapse of the quantum state. In a certain sense, the entire process of the evolution of the universe ever since has been an effort by God to connect the body and the mind of His own being.

The arising of organic life, as well as all the planets, solar systems, and galaxies, represents, on a cosmological scale, the birth and arousal of sensation in God's body. Every portion of material reality is a sensory tool, a nerve cell of one kind or another, in the body of God, and all of them are endlessly striving to help the body become aware enough of itself to reconnect with the Supreme Source of their arising.

Man's inner struggle is an exact reflection of this; the effort to connect the body and the mind in an inner work are an exact reflection of this process, on a microcosmic scale. God, in other words, seeks to know Himself in the same way that man seeks to know himself, and by analogous means.  God suffers, on a cosmological scale and in the cosmological sense, from a lack, in the same way that we suffer from a lack. Our own longing for reunion with the divine is a simple mirror of the longing that God feels for reunion with his own creation.

Each one of us becomes a mirror for this process, and is actually assuming responsibility for acting on behalf of God to help God know Himself. This is the particular service and being-duty that brings essence-satisfaction, a satisfaction rooted in right relationship to the organism, quite different from what we usually think of as satisfaction.

This process of service and being-duty takes place on every level; angelic forces, which belong to the planetary and solar realms, have an equally great struggle in front of them.

 Everything participates.

Sorrow arises on every level, and penetrates material reality at every level, because it is an essential part of the emanation of Love, which created the universe. Love and sorrow are inseparable; this is because all Love knows its own impermanence. Love is, in a certain sense, very simply put the awareness—the conscious awareness—of what Gurdjieff called “the merciless Heropass,” that is, time. The feeling quality of the universe, which is the highest emotional expression in both God and man, is intricately linked to this sensation of time. Even in our shallowest expressions of love, we sense this. The idea that we will love the other "until the end of time" is so oft-repeated it's banal. Yet within this banality lies an essential truth.

So love, in and of itself, within its own arising, begets sorrow, because nothing can ever love without instantly feeling sorrow. All of the beauty that arises as an expression of love—and in this, I include all of the impressions we take in around us, of flowers, birds, trees, and so on—is also and in fact ultimately an expression of sorrow, because each one of these beautiful things contains within it not only the love that created it, but the implicit fact of its own impermanence.

 There are complex ideas here that can only be sensed, and not verbalized, but hopefully readers will understand the gist of this particular question, and see that we are dealing here not with conjecture or theory, but with objective facts about the nature of the universe and of man's existence. This has a great deal to do with the quote that was brought up two posts back.

Thinking of this particular excerpt from Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson as a theoretical proposition, or an idea that is foreign to our day-to-day life, is a terrible mistake. If we work—if we wish to work—we need to work to gain a practical understanding of what is said here. It's all well and good to try and puzzle out what is meant by the idea of trying to have non-desires prevail over desires, but, in a certain sense, why even bother? If we don't first have an understanding that all of our ideas about what life consists of, and in particular about sorrow and its nature—in other words, the first part of the text—are fictitious, what's the point of pondering our desires and non-desires?

Understanding the question of sorrow and our position in the universe is the motivating factor here. Without this understanding, there is no reason to work. So in a certain sense, putting the question of our desires and non-desires in front of the question of why we are here, and why our existence—and the existence of everything—is composed of suffering is putting the cart before the horse.

 We can only speak of this in our capacity as small things, who can only see in small ways. Objectively, the anguish of the Lord is infinite and incomprehensible, just as His Love is. His Love for His creation is what begets anguish. God feels anguish in and of Himself because of the fact of His creation; He is fully able to comprehend the scope of his responsibility, and the terrible fate of all creatures condemned to participate in material reality, with its temporal constraints and inevitable impermanence.

 There is an even larger principle at work here that needs to be considered, although it is once again very nearly impossible to understand, given our limitations.

This is that just as we ask for forgiveness from God, so God hopes that we will forgive him.

There is a reciprocity to forgiveness, in other words, whereby creation must forgive God for the fact that it lives and dies. The anguish of our Creator, the Sorrow of His Endlessness, ultimately lies in his separation of himself from himself, and the hope and fervent wish that all of himself might come back to him, rather than having to dwell apart.

Finding ourselves on the other side of that cloud of unknowing, perhaps we can begin to understand the idea that while God has compassion for us—and always has—it is we ourselves that do not have compassion for God.

 Most of the practical aspects of understanding these points of work lie in the capacity for developing real feeling, which has an umbilical connection to the matter: that thread that runs down through the center of our being, connecting us to the core of what is real.

An intimacy with this particular part of ourselves will inevitably lead us to an expanding experience of our role.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Click here for a link to my latest Parabola blog: "?"

Thursday, April 26, 2012


The belief that the aim of our inner and outer existence is “happiness” or “joy” is fundamentally mistaken. If there is any liberation to be attained, the chief liberation may be from these delusions.

All of our ideas about what liberation consists of, all of our ideas about what will satisfy us and what will make things right in our lives, emanate from this level. We use everything that personality and our accreted being has in it to make assumptions and draw conclusions about where we are, and where we're going. Even the idea that there is a place to go is a made-up idea that comes from personality. There is, in fact, nowhere to go—we are here. That's it. We never go anywhere. If anything, anywhere perpetually comes to us.

 All of our ideas, then, about satisfaction in life come from the external part of ourselves. We don't understand what would satisfy essence, because so little of us inhabits a relationship to it. The concept of satisfaction itself is based on false premises. Happiness and joy don't fall outside of this dilemma; they are firmly embedded in it.

The point is that the center of gravity of our satisfaction has to change.

One of the aims of Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson is to reveal that all of the premises we base life on are fundamentally flawed. Yet we, as readers, read it and immediately start interpreting everything in it and adapting everything in it to what our personality understands. Inevitable, perhaps—yet Mr. Gurdjieff had the fervent hope that much of this material might penetrate down into lower layers of our being, where essence does express itself, parts that are not yet damaged by personality.

The only true satisfaction in life has little to do with happiness or joy. It's true that happiness and joy appear as byproducts of the fulfillment of real being-duties; it's not as though one labors in vain. But mistaking the byproduct as the aim is like undergoing a refining process to create jet fuel, and then mistakenly thinking that the polymers one can make plastics with were the point of it all in the first place. It produces a powerful "pink cloud" effect—overwhelming the inner effort of he or she who experiences it, convincing them that "this is it."

If one stops there, believing that one has attained enlightenment, one cannot go beyond.

 Essence can only be satisfied by fulfilling its responsibilities to the divine; by obedience and service. That obedience is obedience to the lawful relationships in the universe; and that service is to take on a portion of the Sorrow of His Endlessness.

Inner work, in other words,  is not just about feeling good.

Back to the question of the center of gravity of our consciousness; a point brought up in the very first chapter of Beelzebub (see page 23.) Our center of gravity is located in personality,  and absolutely—I emphasize this, absolutely—all of our ideas and understandings about satisfaction begin and end here.

Essence-satisfaction is located in a completely different part of our presence, which is completely foreign to the personality. Personality is not even connected rightly to the parts that can sense this kind of satisfaction. It has a superficial connection to the least developed part of the nervous system, and stimulates it endlessly, the way that rats in an experiment step on a lever in a cage to deliver themselves food rewards. This is all it knows; it completely lacks an education on the matter. So, as I pointed out at the beginning of this essay, our understanding of satisfaction begins with a flaw we are blind to, because we take what we already know for granted.

Mr. Gurdjieff warns his readers about this at the very beginning of the book, when he  refers to our consciousness as a “fictitious consciousness” (The Arousing of Thought, page 23) and advises us that his writings “might affect you very, very cacophonously, and thereby you might lose… Do you know what?… Your appetite for your favorite dish, and that special psychic feature of yours which particularly 'titillates your vitals' on catching sight of your neighbor, the brunette." (Ibid., pages 15–16.)

 He couldn't make it clearer—yet all of these warnings are forgotten in our rush to assume that our fictitious consciousness knows what we want, and what is good for us.

 Essence-satisfaction, in other words, is something very different than what we think of as satisfaction. It is an organic process born strictly and solely of suffering; and suffering itself, as our fictitious consciousness understands it, doesn't have anything to do with actual or real suffering. The word itself means something other than what our associations can bring us.

 Essence-satisfaction is only born of an inner effort to receive the substance of the Sorrow of His Endlessness, which is a material property of reality that penetrates the entire universe and is implicit in its arising. As I've explained before, the nervous system evolved to receive this kind of material; in being sensory tools on behalf of a higher consciousness, organic bodies are designed to help higher consciousness sense itself.  (This particular point will be the subject of the next post, two days from now.)  Essence can't be satisfied by ordinary things; in fact, nothing in the world of materiality that personality participates in is even remotely capable of satisfying essence, because essence can only be satisfied by inner action.

This is an important point, because very nearly 100% of what we are has no understanding whatsoever of that question. When people speak of “a taste of something real” in their inner work, they are tasting this question of essence-satisfaction through inner action. Our sense of longing for God arises because of contact with this property of Being. It is the only thing that is actually real in terms of a wish, a direction, and aim; it's connected to what is real, because the thread of essence connects to the higher centers. The  lightbulb we are able to turn on in our basement is so dim we can barely see by its light...there is a whole banquet in this pantry, but personality can't quite see what's on the shelves.

 The materiality of sorrow and the objective fact that this material is woven directly into the fundamental fabric of the universe is essential to understanding why men work. Work cannot just be a self-centered series of questions about who I am, and why I am here. This may be where work begins, but it is a self-referential trap. Work is not about me. It isn't for me. Inner work is ultimately undertaken on behalf of a much vaster enterprise, and if my vision does not grow—as Walt Whitman's vision of poetry grew—into a vision of the whole world, even the whole universe, then I just live in a petri dish where I perform little biological experiments to see which bacteria are eating each other.

The essential point of work is to work on behalf of others. To work on behalf of the Lord Himself. And if the aim of what Mr. Gurdjieff called “self perfecting”—a lofty aim indeed, if there ever was one—has any point whatsoever, it is to begin to sense this question of the materiality of sorrow.

 This is worth investigating.

The next post will expand on this question from a cosmological point of view, because there are specific objective understandings about the nature of reality connected to this.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Suffering and Desire

Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus Would Freeze (Detail)
1600-1603, Hendrick Goltzius
Ink and oil on canvas

Perhaps one of the most telling statements in Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson is the quote regarding desire and non-desire.

I say this in part because of the position that it takes on the question of suffering. What he says here is, in my experience, entirely true and completely accurate. This may seem like an extreme position to take; after all, when modern people speak of spiritual development, everyone seems to want to talk about joy, to experience joy, move into a realm of joyful action. This includes Gurdjieffians, who might occasionally seem to be otherwise pragmatic individuals.

 It's not about joy. If you want to believe that, it's fine with me, but speaking from my own authority, this is not a right understanding of the nature of the universe, our condition, or where our responsibility lies; it's just a step on the path, and will serve as a powerful distraction unless one is wary. Everyone wants joy; but very few know what actual joy is. What people call joy is a temporary state of emotional infatuation, much like love.

These words are not meant to be harsh; nor are they meant to represent a dark and impossible cosmology, contradiction though that may seem. The resolution of this contradiction, such as it is a contradiction, and such as it resolves, is that men find what we call “joy”—real joy, that is, not the ersatz emotional state produced by our personality—only through fulfillment of their responsibilities to the Creator.

That is to say that suffering is our lot, our responsibility, and our due—and the essence-satisfaction that can be gained from true suffering, an actual participation in receiving the material forces of sorrow, is much greater than any ordinary emotional experience we may think can make us feel good, think positively, have a right attitude, and so on. The word “bliss,” which is commonly believed to describe an ecstatic state of a joyful nature, actually means to suffer in great anguish. Touched by this understanding, one will begin to fully appreciate the difference between the reality and the very nearly entirely theoretical premises that we use to describe such things in books and conversations.

 As such, we discover that Gurdjieff's aim fundamentally differs from that of the Buddha in that he proposes we must invest in suffering, rather than become free of it. This despite the unambiguous relationship between many Buddhist ideas and Gurdjieff's principles.  It poses questions well beyond the scope of this essay.

When we speak of non-desires, what do we mean? What is desire? How does it differ from what we wish? And how does allowing non-desire to prevail over desire figure into the picture?

 One thing seems sure to me.  Those of us who wish to “develop” spiritually desire an improvement. It's all very nice to speak about not working for results, but let's be honest with ourselves. We want something. We are not in this work—no one is in any spiritual work— for “nothing.” A desire for development motivates the effort. To be sure, there is also wish, but wish and desire are two different things. Our personality desires enlightenment—it wants to inspire it, "breathe it in," get it, and have it for itself. This is where most of our work is centered.

Our wish, on the other hand, aspires. Aspiration can be characterized as the exhalation of what we are; it is a surrender, a giving up. So wish does not grasp, it surrenders; whereas desire wishes to have for itself. And if we want our non-desire to prevail over our desire, above all, perhaps, we must not want to work. We must not desire inner work; we must not be attached to inner work. Inner work must, in a certain sense, be done for no other reason than that we do it. Which, incidentally, may remind astute readers of Dogen's ideas.

This is a tricky thing, because it suggests that we have to work without expecting anything whatsoever. We have to throw out all of these ideas we have about development, man number 4, 5, 6, and so on. All of that nonsense. All of it completely irrelevant, in the end, to the fact that we must make an effort to be, which is quite different than desiring.

 Wish consists of a longing, and a letting go of what we are. Desire wants to force open the flower bud, peel back the petals and make it bloom; wish understands that no flower can be forced. Wish is an observer with the patience to be still and watch a process unfold; desire is an actor who wants to make it happen. So the question of desires and non-desires doesn't just relate to the simplistic question of what the body wants and the need for discipline in this area; it goes well beyond that. It moves in to the territory between essence and personality, and how each one operates. One with wish, and the other with desire.

In a certain sense, in the same way that chief feature is everything a man is, desire is everything that we are.  One might even reasonably argue that desire is the chief feature of chief feature. 

Think of it this way. As we are, in this moment, we are composed of desire in exact proportion to how much of us expresses personality. If even one percent of essence enters into the expression of total being within a moment, then 1% of us becomes wish. This is an apt analogy, because when we work, we gradually become a blending of essence and personality—at least, that is, if any change takes place. At that point, we begin to draw active distinctions between essence and personality, and perhaps we know when we are invested in one or the other, and to what extent. 

This is an important point of work for all of us. If we can't distinguish between a higher influence and our ordinary self, we know nothing, and very little is possible.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cosmologies of Light and Darkness

After a day spent, in part, reading Paramhansa Yogananda's biography, and then hosting a Parabola poetry event at the Orchard House Café, we drove back from Manhattan in the deep of night,  across the bridge, up the Palisades, into a quiet darkness that seemed to encourage contemplation.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine who studied under Lord Pentland advised me that Pentland once told him that Ouspensky never really understood the work. He did a great deal for the Fourth Way, it's undeniably true; and service of this kind is indispensable. Yet he never penetrated to the depths of what the work is really for, except intellectually—which is definitely not enough.

One can't contrast any two visions of the universe more, perhaps, than Yogananda's vision of bliss, light, and love—unsurprising, given his firm rooting in the Bhakti tradition—and the dark universe of struggle and near—impossibility of development that Ouspensky described in In Search Of The Miraculous.

 There are those who want inner work to be impossible; those who want our task to be onerous, the way to be straight and narrow, and the danger of being burned in the fire constantly all around us. At their worst, such people aren't followers of Ouspensky, of course; they end up as the fundamentalists of any religion, whose pulpit preaching threatens Hell for all those who fail to listen.

 Then there are those, on the other hand, who think that all is light and bliss and love, that everyone will be saved, and that the universe is essentially perfect. Even at their worst, they are good, because they at least believe in the overriding principle of love.

Yet this vision of bliss and love, as alluring as it may be, is equally partial.

I think that any rational human being whose emotions are not already damaged would, given a choice,  choose the latter path. Can one actually propose a higher consciousness that does not Love its own creation? Can we really believe in a universe dedicated to the unfeeling destruction of all that does not struggle relentlessly?

 And what, exactly, does Love mean? Is it joy? Is it sorrow?

Or is it the manifestation of a single force, containing both of these elements?

 I think this brings us back to the question of valuation. Everything has a value. Jeanne de Salzmann said (quite rightly, I am sure) that nothing ever stays the same place. Everything is always going either up, or down; the universe is in constant movement. She didn't, however, say that everything which is going down has no value.

The entire circulatory system has a value. To pretend that all downward movement is a discarded effort is perhaps mistaken. We, ourselves, after all, are a product of the downward movement of the energy through the ray of creation. All of material reality is a product of this downward movement. Are we to believe that that is valueless?

I think not. It is, in point of fact, necessary.

To be sure, sentient beings such as ourselves have a responsibility to assist in the upward movement of energy, yet to try and perform this task while disdaining or disavowing where we come from and what we are is pointless, and in a certain definite way fails to value that which is received. If a man walks through his life with his head always turned upwards, how many things will he trip over? How much will he injure himself? The downward movement is absolutely necessary as well; it's not the movement itself that carries challenges for us, but our relationship to it and our attitude towards it.

In a  universe ruled by the principle of Gleichgültingkeit, where everything has a property of equal value, each note struck in the octave is equally vital and necessary to the development of the whole octave. One can't pick out a single note, for example, “Mi,” and think to oneself, "Well, that note's not good enough." A single note, first of all, means nothing, without its partners in an ascending and descending scale; and secondly, the note itself already has an inherent value, as does the single note struck on a bell.

 Well, of course, perhaps the problem is that we do constantly pick out single notes and say “well, that's not good enough.” This is called being judgmental; a disease everyone is familiar with.

 In any event, returning to Yogananda and Ouspensky; I can't unconditionally agree with Yogananda's assessment of man's destiny as a journey towards endless bliss; but I can't sign on to Ouspensky's dark cosmology either. Their visions, though remarkable, are incomplete. I believe Gurdjieff intentionally sterilized his inner work of the language and philosophy of the yoga schools specifically in order to avoid causing those studying the Fourth Way to become victims of such limitations.

Man does not begin, or end, his life as an outcast, inevitably consigned to the fire. Conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional, he fulfills his role as a living manifestation of Being. All of what takes place is necessary; the things that appear to us to be insane and destructive are, for incomprehensible reasons, just as necessary as the things that appear to be wonderfully creative.

 Don't expect me to sort this out for anyone. I'm not able to. All any one of us can do is inhabit the particular expression which we have been made responsible for. That's not a copout; it's a fact. Each of us becomes responsible for his own very tiny corner of the universe, in which the whole of the universe finds its conscious expression, within that context.

We encounter what we encounter; we do what we do.

It is our alignment to it that makes a difference.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What ought to be done about it?

 One of the introductory features of group work in the Gurdjieff organization has often been the assignment of "tasks" by group leaders.

What is the point of a task?

Well, I remember my early years in the work, when every week, there was a task. I recall year after year of sitting in groups and listening to people talk about how they did do the task, they didn't do the task, they did it a little, a lot, saw this, that, and the other thing, etc..

A great deal of it, in my admittedly feeble recollection, revolved around what ended up being psychological analysis of how we thought we were, and what ought to be done about it.

This question of thinking that we can do is insidious. We think we can do. That's just a fact. If we walk about saying, in parrot-like fashion, “Man cannot do,” all it does is leave a little fog on the surface of our mirror, which quickly evaporates. In reality, ego and personality are firmly and absolutely convinced they can do. It's only in their "dropping-off" absence that the idea can finally disappear.

So here we are, locked within this rigid concept of doing. Perhaps it makes sense to just relax and understand that we are stuck in this box, inhabit it, and see how we try to do. One might suggest that that's the real point of tasks; in a task, where one is asked to do this, that, or the other thing, the point has nothing to do with doing the task. My heretical proposition—here it comes, be prepared to be outraged—is that focusing the attention on a particular point, which is allegedly the aim of many (if not all) tasks, isn't the point at all.

Even the effort to focus the attention stems from the belief that we can do. And, as I've pointed out in other posts, focusing the attention from the perspective of ego and personality (which is the only place it can emanate from under the circumstances) is an ersatz kind of attention, a faux attention which may, with luck and under the right circumstances, attract something real, but which is generally just one more gesture of futility in the midst of a sea of complementary work-induced delusions.

 What, then, is the aim of a task? (Yes, I know that I have asked this question twice.)

Tasks have nothing to do with being able to do anything. They are simply a prearranged set of conditions to inhabit. It's the inhabitation of conditions that is the aim; and perhaps we might suggest that this inhabitation of conditions—which does not presume the ownership of anything so lofty as a "real" attention—is an invocation of Presence. I actually liked this word more—and certainly, it is in vogue, having been firmly minted in chapter after chapter of The Reality of Being.

 No, we aren't able to do. But Presence, a quality that trickles down from a higher level, can manifest, because it has a different quality than our ordinary self, that is, the routine ego-self under all the laws of this level.

Presence comes under the laws of a different level. Essence and the thread of being I have spoken of many times over the last six months are connected to this understanding. It affirms possibilities outside the Devil's triangle of our day to day life, where every vessel of consciousness we launch seems to quietly disappear over the horizon, never to be seen again. Or it hits an emotional iceberg, and goes the way of the Titanic, accompanied by spectacular uproar.

This point of Presence can be a useful one. We may be able, with some sensitivity, to see that it exists on a sliding scale, that is, there can be more or less of it. It's not an either/or proposition; it is a quality of assistance that arrives in varying measures. And it can encourage us to be gentle in our efforts, rather than hammering away at them with an intellectual fanaticism that serves nothing and no one.

Tasks have nothing to do with doing the task. They are always about seeing how we are. It brings us  back to this essential question: who am I? The moment of a task is the moment where I have made an appointment with myself to come back to myself and ask myself, who am I? Not, how can I do the task, am I doing the task, did I do the task? It's pointless to focus on that. The task is simply a framework within which to ask a question.

 We presume that as we grow older and have many years of experience, we don't need these little frameworks anymore. Ah, yes! We have evolved. Well, maybe,—and maybe not. Perhaps we have just grown complacent. Any older person will see enough of that in themselves to become rather suspicious, if they spend any time looking. As a general rule, the more confident we are about our inner work, the less we are probably working.

The whole aim of the process is to eventually reach a point where inner work is alive enough that it is always there in the corner, keeping an eye on things. It becomes the motive force for everything we do, if enough energy of presence animates our Being.

With or without the consciousness of self, mind you, everything gets done anyway—life goes on inside us and outside is whether we are there for it or not. But it is the being there for it that represents the manifestation of Presence, of Being—and each manifestation of Presence and Being, incremental though they may be, represents a moment of service.

Every moment of service is a moment in which valuation assumes a right orientation.

So, you see, all of these ideas are firmly connected and intricately woven into a web. Starting with something as rote and seemingly idiotic as a task of one kind or another, over the years, our understanding of working begins to assemble itself into a seamless whole where everything fits together. My old group leader Henry Brown often used to sit in front of the group, make a spherical shape with his hands, and remark that it astonished him to continually discover that the work was a whole thing.

It is astonishing. We live on a broken planet, in broken societies, within broken selves—and yet, everything is whole. The Dharma is still there. Christ is still manifest.

 This means that no matter how bad outward conditions may seem—and, we can be assured, they are going to take a great turn for the worse, given the Armageddon that overpopulation is aiming us towards—there is still hope.

Those of us who have dedicated our lives to an inner work must keep working, because part of the responsibility for that hope rests directly in every heart that beats with a thirst for God.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An impossible transaction

This evening, I was reading Paramhansa Yogananda's latest biography—which is, by the way, quite good and, for the most part, worth reading—when I came across a passage describing the idea that we have to surrender our ego, to allow it to be burnt away in the divine fire of God's Love. This romantic notion crops up a lot in the context of spiritual development; yet the idea that the ego has a value, that a transaction can take place with it in which it is destroyed and something new is arrived at, satires me as  a falsehood.

The ego—false personality, that which we think we are—doesn't exist. The entire construction is an illusion, so there is no trading to be done with it. One might as well show up with baked goods at a Las Vegas gaming table and try to place a bet with it.

“Here,” I say. "Here's my ego. I'm staking a bet on Higher Consciousness.”

"Nonsense," replies the croupier. “That's a biscuit, you idiot—not money.”

 The question has been puzzling me since this morning, when, during my sitting, I saw that my eagerness to give myself up was essentially hollow. There isn't anything here God would want, or that "I" could give to Him. Nothing here is solid; the “I” I want to surrender, everything it is, bears no relationship to that which belongs to God, and wants to return to God.

What is of God already belongs to God, and doesn't need to be given back... however, can it be returned to, perhaps? The prodigal son comes to mind.

So in a peculiar way, a way that confused what I am and raised many questions, I saw that my search is, in a certain way, useless... don't take this the wrong way—I'm not saying we should all give up our search. I'm just saying that in essence, with all of what I believe is there of me, there is nothing there. There is not even, as Gertrude Stein said, any there there.

 Readers will have to be patient if they feel that this explanation is clumsy, because it is. There is no definite way to express this question. I can only say that it seems to me throughout a lifetime, and endless pages of spiritual texts, conversations with other seekers, teachers, religious practices, etc., this idea of surrendering the ego comes up over and over again. Yet no one I know has ever seen an ego; and, as I pointed out in my last post, it is a chimera in both senses of the word. First of all, as a mythical animal, and second of all (in the context of surrendering it) as a thing that is hoped or wished for, but is in fact illusory and altogether impossible to achieve.

 To put it bluntly, in a truly higher state, the ego and all the questions about it simply cease to exist, disappearing in a single instant, analogous to what the Zen tradition calls “dropping off.” There can be no question of enlightenment or non-enlightenment here; the point is moot. And, in some peculiar way, we already inhabit this point of intelligence, but we do so unintelligently. The consciousness that could clarify the matter is not present.

Perhaps this points us towards an inkling as to what Meister Eckhart was getting at when he said that in order for God to be present and for God's will to be done, not one iota of ourselves can remain behind in us. I think of myself as a blackboard that needs to be erased; but there is no blackboard. Even the "surface" upon which the script of my personality is written isn't actually there. Something else quite different is there; and I stand forever on the edge of it, suspecting—yet blithely ignorant.

Yes, the conversation leads us into convoluted texts and ideas that fold over one another like pastry dough. Yet it all comes back down to the masthead for this blog, which is been there ever since I established it:

“There is no "I", there is only Truth. The way to the truth is through the heart."

Some of my readers, notably Richard, will probably be inspired to get out the gridiron and start heating it up after that remark. But I'm making it anyway.

That which inhabits us which is real is already fundamentally of God, with God, and in God. All of that which is unreal never existed in the first place. In that sense, we can't "do" anything with it, since there is nothing to be done with nothing.

Perhaps this was one of the meanings Mr. Gurdjieff meant to impart to us when he said that man cannot “do.”

We think we have something we don't have. We think we can do something with it. We think it has a value that can be traded off for something greater.

And yet all of this is illusory.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The formation of being

As should be evident to anyone who reads my posts by now, I am fond of understanding by analogy. And I often find that analogies drawn from the natural world, which is a perfect mirror of the Dharma in every way, are most instructive.

Science can identify the cause-and-effect properties of matter with great precision; yet it is unable to offer any legitimate fundamental insights into the nature of man's emotive process, or how feeling causes us to paint paintings and build cathedrals. Even biologists as prominent as Edward O Wilson, who is a bona fide genius, are unable to understand this process, believing that reductionist explanations will help us know how to feel—or create.

Science, for all its great promise, has failed to deliver anything other than the ability to manipulate the material around us; and what good has that done us? We use the abilities we gain in this area to destroy in far greater measure than we do to illuminate.The great technical minds of the 13th century built Chartres cathedral; the great technical minds of the 20th century built nuclear weapons. Unsurprisingly, science feels no shame for its failure to deliver anything better than this. It's not an emotive discipline, and it can't understand what lies beyond its own ability.

This is much like our personality, which occupies the same territory and has a corresponding penchant for destruction.

In the last post, I mentioned that personality is an accretion or concretion that builds up around the essence over the course of a lifetime. For me, it's useful to invoke a geological analogy in order to understand just how this takes place.

The conscious thread that runs down through the body from higher centers into the lower levels is a connective tissue that delivers a fine energy, a certain level of vibration, to the entire being. It is, in fact, the subtle force which animates the soul— that spark of life without which we are just dead tissue. It forms itself as an emergent structure over the course of the embryo's development, until, at birth, it can carry a sufficient current for a certain higher level of intelligence to manifest in the body.

This isn't a done deal. Although the body is an exquisite tool for the manifestation of this energy, and although the energy of consciousness has a definite aim and intention on inhabiting the body, the body itself has a need for a different set of tools in order to sustain itself on this level. The current running through the body begins to attract impressions through all of its sensory tools from the beginning, and layers of impressions begin to build up in exactly the same way that calcite builds up as water saturated with calcium carbonate creates limestone formations. If we understand this current of higher energy as water, we will see that the formation of personality is entirely a sedimentary process of attraction, deposition, and crystallization.

 It begins to form as a protective layer, so to speak, but it soon insulates the living current in Being from its environment so much that it loses contact, thickens, and becomes an end in itself. Our personality is a thick, hardened layer which we experience as ourselves, but which actually prevents us from receiving the impressions and vibrations we should be receiving.  It's rigid, and dedicated to its own preservation. Everything we inhabit in terms of daily life is already like that. We don't perceive that it is like that, because it is habitual. The hard outer shell of ourselves is taken for granted as what we are. It is even celebrated. We are here in the middle of it even now. This is how we are. We barely suspect how different the inner life could be.

 Originally, spiritual practices and techniques were designed to prevent the thickening of this layer of personality over Being, but that was only useful in ancient times. By now, the process has become so automatic and habitual that preventive measures are no longer possible. Spiritual practices are now practices designed to thin, and perhaps even break open, the layers of personality and ego.

 It's sometimes said that what is necessary is for personality—for ego—for ourselves—to become permeable. This makes some sense, but ultimately, we don't need to be permeable. We must become transparent. That is to say, the layer that stands between us, that is, our essential self and the higher centers, must allow everything to pass through it without attachment. The light from this outer world, which is real, but misperceived, must come into direct contact with the inner world, which has the capacity for comprehending it in a way that the intermediate structure of personality is unable to grasp.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


"Transylvanian" Carpet
Turkey, 17th century
Metropolitan Museum, New York

One of the persistent ideas that crops up in yogic understanding—an idea that also features prominently in Buddhism—is that the world is Maya, an illusion. Or, to put it more precisely, our perception of the world is an illusion. What we see isn't real.

 Well, of course, this is entirely incorrect. What is is, after all, absolutely real. It is what sees it that is not real. And it's possible to offer an explanation of this—not that anyone wants explanations, mind you, since they have been formally banned in the Gurdjieff work—that is consistent with the difference between essence and personality.

Our consciousness, you see, isn't anything like we think it is. Consciousness itself has no self in the way that we understand self; it does have a self in terms of a higher understanding of self, but this is different than the cramped little box we understand self from. There are even individuals at higher levels; distinct individuals, including the astral bodies of those who used to live on this level, if they developed. Anyway, all of this is doctrinaire and consistent with what Gurdjieff said, despite the fact that it probably sounds like the rantings of a deranged individual. You'll just have to trust me on this one; I am not speaking from book learning.

So the self that we understand as the self is not the self. The personality is actually an accretion, a crystallization or a hardened concretion of substances, like a kind of calcite or plaque, that has developed around our essence-consciousness as we grow up.  Essence–consciousness is the thread connected to the real consciousness that inhabits this body from a higher-level. When Gurdjieff spoke about the fact that man has higher centers in him, he was referring to precisely this inhabitation of the body by consciousness from another level, which has been covered up by "sand," like a forgotten civilization. And the enneagram is, of course,  the famous "map of pre-sand Egypt."

Personality, as much as we love it, isn't even real. The whole ball of wax is the illusion—what we believe, how we are, the things we are attached to, our aims and goals, and so on. There is, in other words an ersatz or illusory being in us that has grown up in a hardened ball around the real Being of consciousness that extends down into this level. The entire world of this being is illusory. It is incapable of seeing anything real, because it has no inherent reality of its own.

Consciousness arrives in bodies and penetrates them as an expression of itself. It doesn't arise in them; it exists before the body and it exists after the body. The body is a vehicle, in the same way that Vishnu rides Garuda. This idea is, in fact, a rather exact expression of the relationship between the body and the higher self.

 Personality dies at the end of the body's life. There's not much anyone can do about that; it is an artifice in the first place, and only useful insofar as this level goes. Yet we are totally wrapped up in it: we cling to it, not understanding that it is a bogeyman.

WE are the illusion. Ourselves.

When Jeanne de Salzmann explained that consciousness ought to be experienced as coming from behind the body or from above the body, she was referring to an initial—well, admittedly, perhaps not so initial—realization of the fact that consciousness exists independent of the body.

Clinging to the self, which has a completely illusory idea of absolutely everything—an inescapable idea of everything—is the chief source of our inability to achieve real understanding. Reading the words about it may seem to make it facile enough to grasp, intellectually at least, but it doesn't do us much good. And an enormous amount needs to be paid before an organic sensation of Being can begin to lead us in the direction of a right understanding here.

 So this world I see—in the way that I see it—is completely illusory, because the artifice that I inhabit, which interprets it, isn't real. It's certainly possible for "me"—which does not exist—to become transparent enough for something real to take place. This is what inner work is for. Eventually, the stuff that personality is made of becomes thin enough for some light to shine through it.

Maybe then something real can be sensed.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Permission to Be

So many practices are exclusionary. Religions, in particular, tend to come with a long set of rules. You can't do this: you must do that. As if it weren't difficult enough that we are already under the inexorable weight of a relentless range of cosmic laws, all of which restrict activity in and of themselves.

The next thing you know, we men proclaim ourselves representatives of God, and start making up our own “special” laws, which everyone else ought to follow... should be forced to follow, in point of fact, if they should happen to disagree.

 Practices of this nature are religions of negation. They don't start out affirming God; they start out negating man,  thus unconsciously and unintentionally rejecting God's creation, such as it is. What one might call the doctrine of sufficiency—the Dharma is sufficient unto itself, the universe is in a state of  Gleichgültigkeit, or comprehensive validity—is thrown away up front. This isn't good enough; that isn't good enough. Man isn't good enough.

There is truth at the root of the recognition that we are insufficient; everything less than the whole Being of the universe in its totality suffers from a lack, induced by partiality. Men's rules and laws, however, have little or nothing to do with actual efforts at reunion. Instead of encouraging men to be what they are and as they are, at the root and the heart of their lives, they encourage both self-destructive behavior and behavior that destroys others.

The empowering, positivist nature of the Fourth Way stems from its inclusionary nature. The Fourth way doesn't suggest that men shouldn't be this or shouldn't be that; it suggests that men should be, and see what they are. One does not, in other words, have a long list of restrictions on one's activities or manifestations. One is, to be sure, expected to behave responsibly; practice of this kind is not an excuse for running amok, although the potential for abuse among the uninitiated is always there. One is expected to behave responsibility within the context of the actual arising of one's life; to observe it; to inhabit it, and participate.

The active participation in itself is considered to be a religious practice—religious in the sense that the participation of consciousness in the manifestation of material reality is the connection between higher and lower levels.  Put in the other terms, in so far as we see on behalf of God, act on behalf of God, and do on behalf of God—without changing what we see, how we act, and what we do—then we participate. This is what service consists of.

In our being, acting, and doing, all of which does not belong to us, but belongs to God—which, if we see with Feeling (as opposed to intellect) is how we sense and what we sense as we see—we fulfill the will of God. Only in this sense, in which life is lived fully, uncompromisingly, unconditionally, and without judgment, including all of what men call good and what they call bad, do we fulfill the will of the divine, because the will of the divine sees all action and all life as equally valid.

To be sure, one doesn't have to be some kind of esoteric genius to come to this realization. Father Gregory Boyle touches directly on this question in his excellent book, Tattoos on the Heart, without ever stating it in esoteric terms.Yet the practice, lived outwardly, reveals the core of a willingness to engage in what one might call complicit suffering—being in the midst of everything that happens, some of it right, some of it inarguably wrong—and practicing compassionate presence, a willingness to be there.

 There is not much room for this kind of practice if your aim is to fix everything outwardly. Even though it's necessary to engage outwardly—and without a doubt men are called to act on their conscience outwardly as well as inwardly—one has to begin, in a sense, without judgment, and within the context of the fact that we all fail. We have failed before; we fail now; we will fail later. It's the courage to carry on in the face of this repeated failure, to continue to see, to witness, and to participate, that renders the act of living sacred, in so far as we fulfill this responsibility. And the knowledge that we will inevitably fail must not paralyze us—we are charged with consciously inhabiting our weaknesses in equal proportion to our strengths.

Gurdjieff gave us permission to Be.  To be as we are; without pretending to be something special or something higher or something better than others, but to suffer ourselves as we are. Not any other way that we ought to be.

 Suffering ourselves as we are causes us to continually question what we are, where we are, and why we are. Without the friction of what we are rubbing up against our awareness of what we are— as distinct from the identification with what we are—no fire will light the way on our inner path.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

One urgent matter

Plate depicting a woman playing a tambourine
 Turkey, Iznik, Ottoman period, ca. 1600
 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

I think we can all agree it's clear that we don't value things rightly. If we take a look around ourselves, we see that we systematically destroy not only individuals, societies, and even the very ecosystems we depend on to survive, we also destroy relationships—and, as those of us recovering from addiction will attest, even ourselves.

This is because our valuation has no gravity. It's established in our external self, our personality—not our essence. And we don't understand that right inner valuation, a sense of the self as an organism, is in fact essential if anything else at all is to be rightly valued.

How much, for example, do we value our inner work? Not much. The way I forget myself is an old story; I talk about it a lot, as though it were a casual matter, good for reporting. I bring it to meetings and discuss it with others so that I will have a picture to hang on my wall, something to chat about. The sense of urgency? It's not there. I don't see that life is slipping away, that the sand is running through the hourglass, and that there is only one urgent matter to clarify.

 If I don't clarify that one urgent matter of who I am, inside, in myself, in my essence, I will never value anything properly . We may say the words, “I am,” but the words are very nearly meaningless, a robotic action. The words “who am I?” are the ones that have the motive force. No amount of “I am” will go anywhere if it exists only within the inertia of my personality.

 Hence the emphasis on establishing a right connection with the body. The body, at least, has a better sense of the fact that it exists than my mind does. There is nothing abstract about having the lawful requirements of chewing food, breathing air, and excreting imposed upon it. It knows it will die. The rest of me, I might well argue, doesn't. Or, at least, doesn't consider this fact significant enough to render any action necessary.

 This one urgent matter is a matter of wholeness, of sensing that thread that runs through one's Being. There is something; we are. And all of our wish, all of the longing and caring that we taste in ourselves for a return to something more real, more vital, more true, stems from an echo of this urgent matter, ringing through all the accreted layers of ego and our personality, rising up from a source so deep and so ancient that we have forgotten its name.

Yet we still recognize its tone.

As long as I don't care, as long as I don't value rightly, as long as I don't sense the absolute vitality of this thread that runs through me, nothing goes anywhere. This should be a question that I wake up with every morning, and a question that follows me through every minute of every day.

 At a certain point, it's time to stop fooling around. The intellectual, the philosophical, the psychological games must end. And I need to use the very critical faculties that Gurdjieff referred to in his aphorism  to see that. The critical faculty is there to dress down this tendency to think a lot with one part. Thinking needs to take place actively in all three parts; yes, the body can think, and the emotions can think.  When they do, a great deal of the nonsense that gets bantered about is put to rest.

 Instead of fooling around, I need to live. To directly inhabit my life. This isn't a question of analyzing my parts, of cataloging the various aspects of my personality, or reaching conclusions (which I have learned to disguise as "questions") about how I am this way or that way. Forms, disciplines, and literature may all give me a context for believing that that's the aim of inner work, but it isn't. The aim of inner work is to live—to be alive. Artificial constructions of the mind aren't going to achieve that.

So there is this one urgent matter: to live. To inhabit life. What animates me? What animates my wish? What am I going to do today—what am I going to do now—to remember to live?

I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday, 2012

Last night, a good friend of mine invited me over for dinner, because my wife Neal was upstate and not coming back until quite late.

I eat with them often. For reasons unclear to me, they frequently ask for me to say the blessing. I don't really feel qualified to say blessings; to contrast, I know a wonderful Baptist man down south, a man about my own age, who has an extraordinary skill with blessings at meals. It is, to be true, the old-style Southern preacher's skill, but I have no reason to be skeptical of this kind of blessing. Ray (that's his name) manages, like a Zen master, to instantly penetrate to the heart of the matter of what a blessing is, remembering who we are, why we are here, and giving thanks to the Lord unerringly, in every direction.

I'm always in awe of him when he blesses a meal.

Perhaps that serves as a footnote to remind us that “ordinary” Christianity isn't ordinary at all—and that even very ordinary people who some might be tempted to think have a shallow, literal, or somehow otherwise "inferior" practice, are in fact real human beings living the life of Christ, participating in every aspect of the Dharma, and fully realized within their own context... like the rest of us. (Readers with questions about this idea of even the unrealized being fully realized are encouraged to read Bokusan's commentaries on Dogen's Genjo Koan,  an exceptional piece of work that no library should be without.)

We are, in other words, all in this together, and the failure to recognize that is an indulgence of the ego that cannot be excused in any real seeker... yes, I know this seems like a digression from the question of blessing, but offering a blessing itself is above all a recognition of our humanity.

In any event, given the solemn task of blessing the meal, I make an inner effort to inhabit the situation with intimacy; to speak directly and honestly about both the moments that have affected me during the day and this moment now. It is very much speaking in the moment, without any formulas, and I never know what I will say. I often surprise myself.

Last night the contemplation of blessing brought me—perhaps inevitably, given the season—to an inner reminder that Christ suffered a great deal more than we have. Here was a man who was given a task above all tasks, and shouldered the karmic burden of all mankind in a way that is at best poorly understood to those of us alienated from the astral level, where such things are mediated. He had the compassion to shoulder this burden, the ability, and the will—on his level, that is, our level—to submit to a higher will in order to accomplish the task he was given.

The life of Christ serves as an extraordinary paradigm for what it means to be human and to accede to the will of a higher level. The example of the crucifixion and resurrection speaks, without a need for  words, into the deepest part of us, reaching into the very heart of both our mortality and the divinity that animates us. An extraordinary suffering—a will to completely surrender—is needed. I don't know what real suffering on this level is; I have no idea. The example of Christ is there to humble me and remind me of my own inability.

It's there to humble me and remind me of my ego, and what will become of that upon death.

It's there to humble me and remind me that my life is an easy one, and that I know little about real hardship or suffering.

Christ's journey was a journey into the heart of real feeling. I'd like to make that journey— at least I think I want to. But every step on that path tests me, tests my resolve, tests my own arrogance. I think I am ready—but I'm not. I don't actually know what it means to be ready. I assert to myself in my heart, "yes, I'm ready to accept the penetration of a higher love," but I'm not ready—all I have here are my own assumptions, my own greed for surrender. Yes, greed for surrender—I want something I'm not ready for. Gurdjieff said as much to Ouspensky during their work together. We imagine we want Christ as a teacher—but we are not at a level where we can have Christ as a teacher.

 Perhaps it's a sobering thought to point out that Christ's crucifixion is a reminder of what men who are not at the right level do to teachers they are not ready for.

There is an infinite amount of Compassion and Mercy in the universe. In esoteric terms, I believe, it relates to what Meister Eckhart conceived of as Gleichgültigkeit—which is translated, somewhat disconcertingly, as "indifference" in English. This is a markedly poor translation, in my view, since Gültigkeit actually means validity, implying not an emotional disinterest (which is the default inference when one hears the word indifferent) but a view of all things as equal. (to be as exact as possible, the German word means "property of having the same validity.") It just goes to show you how tricky things can be in translation.

 At the root of the matter, Compassion and Mercy are not  thoughts, ideas, or attitudes. They are material substances, and are manifest wholly within the context of Love, which sees all things as valid. What Eckhart was getting at is that God, as a manifestation of supreme Love, sees all of reality and every manifestation as equally valid.

This expression is in many ways very nearly identical to the idea of the Dharma as expressed by Dogen, and equally related to Gurdjieff's concept of objectivity.  Truth, validity, impartiality, objectivity: all divine qualities.

 In my partiality, I'm unable to see all things as being equal. There's always a polarity. For as long as I make the assumption that anything whatsoever on my spiritual path will take the course I plot out, or follow the rules I think I know, it's my own will I want done. I remain apart from truth, and unable to discriminate between my ego and the force from a higher level.

 And what, then, of the parable of the resurrection, which is what we celebrate today? For surely it stands in stark contrast to the crucifixion, the death of everything we know. Somewhere, across this terrifying and mysterious threshold, lies an extraordinary possibility beyond any comprehension.

This was, in fact, exactly what Jeanne de Salzmann called us to—the death of everything we know.
So perhaps it's appropriate to offer a quote from her.

It speaks eloquently to the question of death and resurrection, and seems entirely appropriate for Easter Sunday.

I would like to read some thoughts which I believe are true:

There is no death. Life cannot die.

The coating uses up, the form disintegrates, but life is—is always there—even if for us it is the unknown.

We cannot know life. It would be pretense to say that we know what life is—what death is.

Some wise men have said that we can know life only after we know death. In any case, death is the end—the end of everything known. And because we cling to the known, the unknown is a fearful thing—for us. So we fear death—but we don't know what it is, really.

If we wish to know life, we need to die to the known and enter the unknown. It is hard to know what entering the unknown is. Perhaps it's just being here. At this moment—being here entirely. Just being here quietly as we try to express our love for the one who is entering the unknown.

In moments like this, in front of death, and being free from the known, we can enter the unknown, the complete stillness where there is no deterioration. Perhaps such moments are the only time in which we can find out what life is and what love is.

And without that love, we will never find the truth.

Jeanne de Salzmann

 All of these concepts we meet first as ideas; yet all of it is an expression of materiality. Becoming the word made flesh is undergoing a transformation in which ideas become material, a transformation in which all of the aspects of God are made manifest through an expression of substance; a spiritual expression of substance, that which animates, and not the action it produces externally.

 We are charged through Christ with that task.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What do you want to know?

We think we want to know what we are, and yet everything we think we know is based on misunderstanding.

Since we don't know that, how can we know that our wish to know something will lead us to things we actually need to know?

Gurdjieff wanted to call men back to a practice that takes them down through the many levels of experience and being to a ground floor which has been entirely forgotten. It's a practice that goes beyond. It goes beyond Zen Buddhism; it goes beyond the basic understandings of conventional Christianity, and it goes beyond Islam. It includes all of these good practices; it informs them: it helps them to become inwardly formed in a more correct way. But at the heart of this teaching lies a secret no one really wants to know, and which is perhaps misunderstood by almost every practice.

Liberation and freedom are not about joy, happiness, and so on. It's not a casting off of the negative so that one can dance in green meadows, play the flute, and admire the sun, blue sky, and puffy white clouds.

Liberation and freedom are instead the assumption of a burden, and that burden—willingly taken by any soul that truly begins to understand this question—is to take on a portion of the sorrow of God.

Gurdjieff explained this exquisitely in the chapter entitled “The Holy Planet Purgatory” which is found in Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson. Any being that begins to “perfect” itself eventually comes to the point where no matter what it does, an inevitable and unavoidable flaw that prevents final reunion with God is expressed. In a certain sense, the implication is that although there is an infinite amount of Love and Mercy in God for his creation—and nothing, repeat, nothing can transcend that Mercy and that Love; it lies outside the realm of human conception, and even tangential contact with it would  for all practical purposes annihilate us—there is no way for us to reunite with the Lord.

The endless sorrow that penetrates the universe—a sorrow that arises strictly from this endless and endlessly creative Love— arises exactly for this reason, and the infinite amount of Compassion that extends throughout the universe and saturates the holy planet Purgatory is there for the same reason.

The longing to return can never be expunged.

This is the search, the hint and the taste of something missing, that one always hears in the best of Gurdjieff's music. And it is that Feeling quality, above all, that might lead us to an understanding of where we are and what we are.

Christ, as it's said, was a man “well acquainted with sorrows.” Any real Feeling that arises in a man must ultimately connect with this sorrow.  Joy is a wonderful thing, but it's not the same. One can feel higher joy as well; some feeling, real Feeling, makes that possible, but that's still not the same. Joy and sorrow aren't separated properties; they share the same identity. Not a philosophy; a Truth. The human organism is designed to sense this quite exactly; yet it doesn't. Why? I can't tell you. Gurdjieff gave us ten thousand reasons. Perhaps all of them are true.

We have lost the ability to distinguish between what is pleasurable and what is right. This needs to be considered very carefully, because for all men, they believe that what is pleasurable is what is right. That one point in itself might explain the mess the whole planet is in right now, don't you think?

All real Feeling leads us in the direction of Purgatory, and nowhere else. There is no path to heaven from where we are except through Purgatory—not a place, but an inner state. And all of this action is so distinct from ordinary emotion that trying to understand it from this side, from where we usually stand in our emotional being, is utterly pointless. Everything, repeat, everything ends up being philosophical discussions. We end up having philosophical discussions in which we firmly assert that we are not discussing philosophically. Keep an eye on that. I suspect you will encounter it today, tomorrow, and the next.  Even worse, our fundamental dishonesty and the buffers that we use to insulate our egos allow us to accuse everyone else of doing exactly what it is that we are doing, while not seeing in the least how we are.

Surely anyone who does see this must hang their heads in shame.

The point is that none of this involves a real contact with the self and with Being, and all of the speculation, hypothesizing, and pontificating has nothing to do with an actual emotional sensation of our state or where we are, which can ultimately lead nowhere but to the most profound and absolute sense of anguish.

I suppose readers will think that this is a supremely pessimistic philosophy; yet there is absolutely no pessimism whatsoever in it. It is not only wholly objective, but also absolutely optimistic, in the sense that we do have the chance to connect with truth, and fulfill our sacred obligations... and if there is any kind of joy at all, there can be no greater joy than this.

We can know what we are. We can know our nature, and we have the opportunity to repent.

 Perhaps this idea of repentance sounds too Catholic or even Calvinistic for the reader, or perhaps readers suspect that I am delivering some kind of Easter-ish soliloquy here, in keeping with the season. It's true that at this time of year, the vibrations of the planetary atmosphere are filled with the need for this type of action; yet that doesn't belong to the Christians alone. The vibrations are there for everyone who can be helped by them, regardless of their religious inclination. Even, perhaps, for all mankind.

 There is nothing ecumenical about repentance. This is an organic duty, an obligation that can only be truly sensed through a contract with one's higher parts. It isn't an outer repentance; and perhaps more importantly, one must understand that no action one undertakes in the outer world can achieve it.

But in order to understand this, one has to turn everything in the cart upside down.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dirty laundry

We're pretty arrogant creatures. I suppose the fact seems obvious enough, given the behavior of human beings in general on this planet, but perhaps we don't consider it as much as we ought to in regard to our work.

People who aspire to spiritual development think they can develop. We have this sense that we could be better than we are; all well and good, so far as it goes. Yet what is really going on there? We want to get something. It's not that we want to get something selflessly; no, we want something for ourselves. Even if what we want seems to be “good”—being, for example, like the Dali Lama—that would be good, right?—somehow, secretly, way down inside where no one can see it our ego wants it for itself. If any kind of purification is needed in a man's inner work, what needs to be purified is his secret sense of greed.

Even greed for the good has to go.

Gurdjieff used to say that a man could develop to be man number 4, man number 5, or even man number 7. This sounds pretty good, too. Higher numbers are better, right? I want a bigger number for myself. I'll be more important. Can any of us really say that there isn't some secret part of us that thinks that way?

The essential fact is that no matter how much a man develops, he is always still a man. No more revealing example can be cited than the behavior of Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, where he had to confront the fact that his own wish was still desperately in opposition to the will of God, which he had to submit to. Even at the level of Jesus Christ, in other words, one is still a man, and one must still serve and obey.

Men often use the words freedom and liberation as though they might somehow mean freedom from service and liberation from obedience; yet they mean the exact opposite. Real freedom and real liberation can only be freedom and liberation from the inner slavery we have created for ourselves. If such a thing ever happens, however, one will still be a man or a woman, and one will still be under the conditions that universal and cosmological (not societal) laws impose on life.

At that point, service and obedience have not left the stage; they are finally at the center— where they always belonged while the supporting cast and the chorus were strutting about usurping the spotlight.

Man at any level must serve. We have a specific purpose in the ray of creation; at every level of our development, we still need to fulfill our duties within the context of our position. Only through a recognition of this obedience—and, one might argue, all that inner development is is an ever-deeper recognition of duty and obedience—can we honor our own value.  Here we touch on yet another allegorical meaning embodied in Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson; and the unambiguous expression "Being parktdolg-duty," which means (being said in three different languages) "Being duty-duty-duty."

One cannot, in other words, emphasize the question enough.

Cosmologies, hierarchies, scales—we see progressions from A to Z, or from Do to Re to Mi to Fa, and we think that being further along or higher up is better. When Gurdjieff pointed out that a man always wants to get to the Place D'Etoile, when his aim needs to be to get to the next lamppost, he was alluding to this habit of ours. If we don't attend to where we are now, the rest of it is meaningless; yet we love to romance the big picture, and gloss over the details. Our inner work becomes sketchy as a consequence. Being here is better—but here rarely looks better to us.

 Real freedom and real liberation are not an escape from conditions; they are an investment in conditions. And I don't want to invest in conditions; that condition over there is better than this one, the condition later on today will be better than the one right now, and so on. My conditions are better than your conditions; I'll defend them. This is how it always goes with us. If there is a struggle, it isn't one imposed from outside; it is a struggle with our own obstinacy and refusal to do the simplest thing, which would be to inhabit conditions.

This is a big suitcase filled with dirty laundry, that needs to be picked through, sorted, and washed. Until that happens, I can't understand how much it weighs—or even the fact that I am perpetually carrying it around with me. If I take responsibility for it, I may be able to clean my garments, fold them up properly, and put them in the drawers they belong in, where they will be available for use as they are needed.

Until then, I'm going to keep pulling out dirty clothes, willy-nilly, and putting them on in every situation.

 I respect fully hope you will take good care.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Something for myself

Gurdjieff’s adage that a man must come to know his own nothingness is familiar to anyone who’s studied his teachings. It is, in point of fact, a core principal of his teaching. And yet I sometimes wonder if we truly understand what this means... Or even take the time to examine the divergent currents that influence this question.

To seek to know the self, is, after all, a quest to discover one’s own somethingness- the part of one that is real, the essential part of one’s being. One’s own nothingness is nothing more than a part of that somethingness-a somethingness that includes more than just nothing. If there truly were nothing- if a man had no intrinsic value-there would be nothing to discover, no action to be taken, no responsibility for effort.

There is something.

An inherent recognition of one’s essential, inalienable value is possible- and this is not just an option. It’s a responsibility. Every human being not terminally damaged by circumstances has, in their heart of hearts, an intrinsic value that emanates from the very fact and truth of their arising. This principle is embodied in the heart of the Christian practice, and has its distinct parallels in Buddhism and other religions. Man is not worthless, a piece of garbage to be discarded. Philosophies of annihilation of self (to the uninformed, Buddhism can be mistaken for such) don’t take the great cycles of energy that drive the universe and its own inherent selfhood into account. There’s a need for Being; ”I am” is not an optional activity, but a sacred responsibility. The embodiment of the self is a material requirement for the existence of the universe as we know it- even atoms are selves, identities inscribed on the fabric of the microcosmos.

So the universe needs selves, needs its own self... creation exists for the embodiment and manifestation of the self, as well as the surrender of the self back to the sources it arises from. The great rotation of consciousness through the process of life and death endlessly recapitulates this cycle. It’s the engine that drives creation; a principle firmly embodied in Gurdjieff’s cosmology.

Somethingness and nothingness, furthermore, are reciprocal. You can’t have nothing without something to identify it; you can’t have something unless the alternative is to have nothing. So the two principles, seemingly opposed, are actually both part of a whole that can be fully embraced only by the exercise of consciousness.  

It’s all very well to speak of the sense of one’s own nothingness... And yet perhaps we should not speak of this, since this particular recognition of ourselves belongs to that most sacred part which is in contact with a higher principle. The exchange between man and God wherein a man acknowledges his nothingness is, in its essence, a private matter... An intimate matter... Not one for public display.When we hear each other speak about a sense of one's own nothingness, the only thing we are actually hearing is an intellectual discourse about the subject. Actual contact with this question lies so far down within the inner source of a man's being that only a fool would try to actually explain it to others.

The esoteric source of a man's work—his own work, what lies deep inside him and can never be put on display—is always in contact with a higher level. Work can't begin without this contact; nothing is possible except with help from a higher source. To even begin is impossible without that help; so if one begins, one already knows that that help has arrived, that it is influencing one's being—even if we remain confused, uncertain, and filled with doubt about it. Already, because that contact exists somewhere (we don't know where, but the certainty is that it does exist) inside us, we know that we have a value. After all, the Lord would not make this effort for us if we were not already valued.

If we don’t learn to trust- and to value- ourselves, we are unable to serve in the manner we were created for. True, recognizing our own nothingness is a significant portion of discovering the sacred nature of our somethingness. 

It is, nonetheless, the beginning, and not the end, of an effort to be.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.