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.

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